In reaching new plateau, Bailey's evolution clear
Pair of no-hitters proof right-hander has lived up to lofty expectations
When it was over, and they bathed him in Gatorade and left him looking like a guy who accidentally left a red sock in with the white wash, Homer Bailey could bask in the brilliance of having done it again.
The joy that erupted on the field at Great American Ball Park after Bailey retired the Giants' Gregor Blanco for the final out of his second no-no Tuesday night was as pure and unfettered as anything you'll see at this stage of the season. Any argument that the no-hitter had lost its luster with its revival in recent seasons went by the wayside when Bailey became the first pitcher to throw baseball's two most recent no-hitters since another proud Texan -- fella by the name of Nolan Ryan -- did so in 1974-75.
This, simply put, was special stuff.
"Every dog has his day," Bailey said afterward. "Twice, I guess."
Twice is nice, no doubt, but the best thing about the attention bestowed upon Bailey as a result of these phenomenal feats against the Pirates last September and the Giants now is that it allows us to reflect on just how far he's come in word and deed, indeed.
A former highly touted prospect who was quick to ascend but slow to adapt, Bailey has become something akin to an ace. And on a Reds team that has spent too much time this season waiting and hoping on the health of nominal ace Johnny Cueto, that evolution can't be discounted.
Even before he dominated the defending world champs, facing just one batter above the minimum (as was also the case when he silenced the Buccos' bats), Bailey rated very favorably in the advanced numbers that help us understand a pitcher's performance beyond the obvious won-loss total or ERA.
Bailey's record is now 5-6, and his ERA is a solid 3.57, but he entered this start ranked 10th in the game in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) with a 2.77 mark that demonstrates he hasn't always gotten the defensive support he deserves (or the offensive help, for that matter, as Bailey's run support average of 3.53 ranked last on the Reds' starting staff).
This is a long-winded, statistically savvy way of saying Bailey has been much better than his most basic stats would lead you to believe. And this is not terribly surprising, given the way he turned his game up a notch in the second half last season, that no-no in the Burgh included. And given how wayward Bailey looked at times in his first five seasons in the Majors, let this be a lesson that you can't necessarily rush the process or be too quick to judge the results as a player of Bailey's talent level searches for his stride.
Remember, Bailey was the National High School Player of the Year in La Grange, Texas, in 2004. He had a miniscule 0.98 ERA as an amateur. There was an expectation that with that blazing fastball and the confidence -- cockiness? -- to use it whenever he darn well pleased, this would all come easily for him. Maybe, in an honest moment, Bailey would tell you he, too, got a little bit wrapped up in those expectations and his own belief in his ability to figure everything out on his own. He certainly didn't offer many honest moments with the media in his early days with the Reds. To say he was reluctant to deal with the press is an understatement.
Now, how much Bailey's maturation as a person coincides with his maturation as a pitcher is probably a subject only those of us who interview ballplayers for a living have a great deal of interest in. But it certainly seems less than coincidence that as Bailey learned how to better adapt to and embrace those around him, he also became a more coachable commodity. And in adopting and then refining a split-fingered fastball that has become an elite out-pitch for him, Bailey, at 27, has reached the ceiling so many envisioned for him.
Bailey's striking out about one-quarter of the batters he faces, by far his best such rate in his big league career. He's allowing by far his lowest home run rate, and he's getting more ground balls. So while it's thrilling to see Bailey turn what has long been considered no-hit-type stuff into actual no-hitters, what should excite Reds fans most is that the no-hitters are merely a byproduct of the greater positives at play here.
The Reds need those positives, because they're in a brutal division dogfight. The Reds, Cardinals and Pirates have three of the top rotations in the game, and for the Reds to be in that mix despite their ace's absence for a total of six weeks, to date (with several more Cueto-less weeks on the horizon), is a testament to their depth.
It's also a testament to the fact that a new ace-type arm has emerged in Cincinnati. The no-hitters -- and that uniform-staining Gatorade baptism -- only serve to confirm how far Bailey has come.