We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming -- the American League playoff races -- to present Homer Bailey, the latest no-hit king in a season of perfect games, no-hitters and near no-hitters.
OK, that ball that bounded over Scott Rolen's glove on a do-or-die play in the third inning of Cincinnati's 1-0 victory is probably a called a hit 95 percent of the time. Hey, it was the Pirates' official scorer who ruled it an error and since it happened early in the game it wasn't one of those rulings made to help preserve a no-no.
Three highlight notes from ESPN Stats & Information about Bailey's gem:
1. After averaging 90 mph on his fastball through three innings and 90.6 in the middle three, Bailey amped it up to 92.1 over the final three innings. A little adrenaline, sure, but it's also an approach Justin Verlander has mastered in recent seasons, saving your best bullets for late in the game.
2. Bailey registered 17 swings-and-misses in the game, his second-highest total in 2012, so the pure stuff was excellent on this night.
3. He threw his fastball for strikes 76 percent of the time, his third-highest percentage of the season.
It's No. 3 that has finally turned Bailey from the perennial -- but disappointing -- prospect into a key member of the Reds rotation as they head into the playoffs. It's been a long road, but Bailey has matured and rewarded the Reds for their patience.
The seventh overall pick in 2004, Bailey's big arm shot him up immediately to the top of prospect lists. Entering the 2007 season, after a big year between high A and Double-A in 2006, Baseball America ranked him the No. 5 prospect in baseball. He reached the majors in 2007 and despite some control issues there (28 walks in 45.1 innings), Baseball America still ranked him No. 9 on its list. Its scouting report on Bailey in the "2008 Prospect Handbook":
Once he was healthy again in September, Bailey was back throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and buckling knees with his curveball. They're both already well above-average major league pitches, and he has shown the ability to take a little off his heater. ... Bailey has no shortage of pure stuff, but he still has to refine his control and command to get big league hitters out and to work deeper into games.
Still, it's taken five seasons for Bailey to emerge as an elite starter. There were some minor injuries along the way, but he's refined his command. His walk percentage by year: 13.7 percent, 9.4, 10.5, 8.6, 5.9, 6.1. He made the big breakthrough last year and has maintained it in 2012. More importantly, he's remained healthy and will top 200 innings for the first time. Maybe he's not an ace, but he's become the definition of innings-eater. He keeps you in the game.
Interestingly, Bailey has been tougher on left-handers this year, holding them to a .248/.311/.380 line while right-handers are hitting .263/.304/.441 off him. Eighteen of the 26 home runs he's allowed have been to right-handers. Much of that difference in damage comes off his fastball. Right-handers are hitting .301 off the pitch, lefties .245. Let's check out his fastball heat maps:
It's difficult to see exactly what's going on there. It does appear he hits the outside corner a little more often against lefties, and if we break the percentages down, we get 7.8 percent of his fastballs against lefties are down the middle versus 9.5 percent facing right-handers. He also varies his vertical location a little better against left-handers.
The Reds will face an interesting dilemma as they set their postseason rotation: Whether they end up as the No. 1 or No. 2 seed, they'll begin on the road. While he logically slots behind Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos (and maybe behind Bronson Arroyo) in the rotation, the smart move may be to start Bailey in the second game of the National League Division Series. As he showed on Friday, he's been much more effective away from Great American Ball Park. He has a 2.41 ERA on the road -- second-best in the majors to Jordan Zimmermann -- but 5.16 at home. As a fly-ball pitcher, it's no surprise that's all home runs: 21 allowed in Cincy, just five on the road.
I know what I'd do. What will the Reds do? Stay tuned.
And now back to your regular programming.