Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bailey Makes Bank

Bailey has good reason to celebrate, but the Reds don't (CBS)
The Cincinnati Reds avoided arbitration with Homer Bailey by inking him to a six-year, $105 million extension that includes a mutual option for a seventh year at $25 million with a $5 million buyout. It's more than twice what Ubaldo Jimenez just got and not far off Freddie Freeman's giant contract extension with the Braves.

That feels like way too much money for a pitcher of Bailey's ilk, which is to say: not an ace. While Bailey's been pretty good over the last two seasons, his body of work does not seem worthy of a nine-figure contract. Here's a pitcher with a 49-45 career record and a below average ERA of 4.25. He's been worth just six wins above replacement in his seven year career and has never led the league in anything besides starts, which he did in 2012. The Reds apparently believe Bailey can improve on those numbers, even though he turns 28 in a few months and probably won't get much better, if at all.

Even after narrowing our focus to the two most recent seasons, Bailey still hasn't been anything exceptional. He's only the 29th most valuable pitcher over that span according to FanGraphs, with the 28th best FIP and 23rd best K/BB ratio. Bailey's never won 15 games, struck out 200 batters, completed 210 innings, posted an ERA below 3.49 or been worth four wins in any of his seven seasons. 

$100 million contracts are typically reserved for the game's best position players and most dominant starting pitchers, and Bailey is neither of those. He's been dominant at times, as he does have a pair of no-hitters on his resume--one in 2012 and another in 2013--but even those don't look so impressive when you dig a little deeper. For starters, both teams wound up with losing records, so his competition wasn't very stiff to begin with.

Anyways, in 2012 he no-hit a Pirates team that struck out more than any National League team except for the Astros and, not surprisingly, ranked third-to-last among NL teams in hits, batting average, and OBP. Plus he had the good fortune of facing them in late September, when they were crashing and burning and some of their best hitters, namely Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones, were slumping. 

Last summer, he no-hit the defending champion San Francisco Giants, which would have been more impressive if they didn't lose 86 games and trot out the Senior Circuit's sixth-worst offense. Nobody on that team batted .300 and just one player, Hunter Pence, exceeded 18 home runs and 80 RBI. Hardly Murderer's Row.

So yeah, $105 million (possibly $130 million, which would amount to Johan Santana/Felix Hernandez money) is an absurd amount of money to reward a player that has never received MVP or Cy Young votes and has never been named to an All-Star team (even if he is the only Red to throw a no-hitter in the last quarter century). Bailey's good and durable, which has value, but not enough to merit such a lavish commitment. I can't help but think the Reds felt urged to spend after doing next to nothing this winter when they're only a handful of moves away from giving the Cardinals a run for their money in the NL Central. 

Shelling out big bucks for starting pitching is usually a pretty good idea. But in this case, Cincinnati spent big on the wrong guy.

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