Homer Bailey (The Enquirer/Joseph Fuqua II)

The 2011 season is going to be the Year of Homer Bailey.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of wishful thinking, but I’m very hopeful that this is the year that Homer Bailey finally becomes the breakout star we’ve dreamed about. I know a lot of you have been very down on Homer over the last couple of years, and there are some people who think he’ll never become anything more than a glorified #5 starter. Here at The Nation, we’ve been huge fans of Bailey since day one, and here’s why:

Did you know that Homer Bailey is only 23 24 years old?

Hard to believe, isn’t it? I simply cannot believe that a significant portion of the Cincinnati fan base has wanted to give up on young Mr. Bailey — who was, at one time, one of the top two pitching prospects in the entire game — before he reached his 24th 25th birthday. Homer’s peripheral stats, and the advanced metrics, show that he made big strides last year; in 2010, Bailey posted his best ever strikeout rate and the lowest walk rate of his career. When you consider the entire picture (age/continual improvement), there remain many reasons to expect good things from Homer.

Despite the age, however, Bailey has done a lot of maturing, on and off the field, over the last couple of years. To wit:

“I want to stay healthy,” he said. “That’s all you can hope for. I don’t think you ever stop learning. With the young guys we have, we’re always trying to improve, always trying to get better.”

“I think everybody’s excited this year after the playoff run we had,” he said. “We have unfinished business. We know what it takes to get to October. It’s a matter of taking care of ourselves and preparing for the year ahead.”

Pitching coach Bryan Price thinks this is Homer’s year:

“I think this is defining year for him,” Price said. “I think it’s important that he starts to get on a good roll. He showed glimpses at the end of ’09. I’d like him to establish himself as a guy who every time out the eight guys behind him are excited he’s out there, and the whole dugout of coaches and extra players who expect great things.

“He certainly has the stuff. Now he has more experience. It’s matter of performance. It’s time to take advantage of this opportunity and throw up some numbers …”

To me, health is the issue. If Homer can stay on the mound and keep improving, I see no reason that he can’t reach his upside (which is probably as a very solid #2 starter). He may not ever be the ace that everyone hoped for, but I fully expect Homer Bailey to be a very effective pitcher for the Reds going forward.