Indians Bet on Trevor Bauer

This post isn’t so much a trade analysis of last night’s three team trade between the Reds, Indians, and Diamondbacks, as that post wouldn’t be that interesting – the Indians got a ridiculously great value for one year of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds turned a prospect they didn’t need into one year of a nice outfielder, and the Diamondbacks turned a pitcher they didn’t want into a guy they hope can be their shortstop of the future. For the Reds, this could be a good move if they can deal with the defensive deficiencies in center until Billy Hamilton is ready. For the D’Backs, they can finally stop trying to sell low on Justin Upton, so even if this trade in particular isn’t a great one, it has a nice side benefit at least. And, for the Indians, they turned one year of Shin-Soo Choo into six years of Trevor Bauer, which looks to be nothing short of a heist.

Last year, both Marc Hulet and Baseball America rated Bauer the #9 prospect in baseball, at that was before he went out and posted a 2.41 ERA over 130 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, striking out 30% of the batters he faced along the way. Bauer’s almost certainly going to be ranked among the top 10 prospects in the game again this coming year. It is extremely rare for a team to turn a rent-a-player into a top ten prospect, especially when that rental is more of a nice player than any kind of star. The Indians got more for one year of Choo than the Twins did for three years of Denard Span. Cleveland fans should be thrilled with this return.

But, at the same time, they should recognize that it might take Bauer a little while to live up to the hype.

Yes, Bauer’s exceedingly young, and his ability to rack up strikeouts in the minors is a strong positive sign for his future. But, the list of similar pitchers who got to the big leagues at age 21 despite problems with their command show that this is an issue that is not always easily remedied. Since 2002, 23 pitchers have gotten to the big leagues as a 21-year-old rookie starter and walked at least 10% of the batters they faced during their initial exposure to Major League hitters. Some of those 23 guys were soft-tossing lefties who got to the show quickly because of their polish, and aren’t particularly great comparisons for Bauer. But, there are some pitchers with similar pedigrees who got to the big leagues at 21 despite command problems in the same way that Bauer did. Among those on the list:

Chad Billingsley, 14.4% BB%
Homer Bailey, 13.7% BB%
Edwin Jackson, 13.6% BB%
Edinson Volquez, 12.5% BB%
Scott Kazmir, 12.2% BB%
Rich Harden, 12.1% BB%
Scott Olsen, 11.8% BB%
Mat Latos, 10.9% BB%
Matt Cain, 10.7% BB%

Bauer is hardly the first young pitcher to get to the big leagues based on his stuff and struggle to throw strikes. And, of course, there’s some pretty good pitchers on that list. If Bauer turns into Cain or Latos, the Indians will be doing backflips, and this will go down as one of the best trades in franchise history. But it’s also worth noting that, in general, these guys didn’t figure it out very quickly.

Bailey was worse at 22 than he was at 21, then was still pretty bad at 23. His peripherals finally started going the right way at age 24, but he just posted his first strong season in terms of results at age 26. For his career, he’s thrown 644 innings and has an ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- of 109/102/102.

Same story with Jackson. Replacement level again at 22, still pretty bad at 23/24, then finally had his breakthrough at age 25. He’s been an effective pitcher for the last four years, but he took a long time to develop into a guy who threw enough strikes to make his stuff work.

Volquez is even more of a cautionary tale. Like Bailey and Jackson, he didn’t really take a leap forward until age 24, and in his case, that leap wasn’t sustained. Tommy John surgery may have played a part in his regression, but Volquez has never figured out how to throw strikes consistently, so even with his premium stuff, he’s hung around the league as a below average pitcher.

Kazmir, Olson, and Harden were good in spite of their command issues early, then ran into arm problems that derailed their stuff and their careers. For a guy with significant command issues, velocity loss can be a huge problem, and push them out of the big leagues entirely. It’s one thing to adjust your repertoire when you’re around the zone, but if you lose your stuff and you don’t throw strikes, there’s not much left to get big league hitters out with.

Based on the published reports, it seems like Arizona was willing to sell low on Bauer mostly because of his personality and his unwillingness to adapt his style of pitching to their preferred development plan. However, there’s also some reasons to be skeptical of the idea that Bauer is ready to step in and contribute in the big leagues in 2013, and another year of walking the world would probably have lowered his trade value over the next 12 months. While this trade will likely be referred to as selling low on a top prospect, it is quite possible that Bauer’s value is going to be lower a year from now than it is at this moment.

Of course, there’s also a pretty good chance that Bauer will eventually figure out how to throw more strikes, and turning into a Homer Bailey, Edwin Jackson, or Chad Billingsley in the long term would still make this a great trade for an Indians team that has time to wait for him to develop. But, we should at least note that pitchers with these kinds of early career skillsets don’t always figure out how to throw strikes, and they often need a few more years of struggles before they make the necessary adjustments. It’s a risk worth taking for the Indians, but for Arizona, the decision to trade Bauer away isn’t totally unjustified.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

35 Responses to “Indians Bet on Trevor Bauer”

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  1. timtebow says:

    i understand that the dbacks may have been low on bauer, but is every other team also?couldn’t they have gotten anything more than gregorious for him?

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    • Choo says:

      Allegedly, the D-Backs couldn’t get Gregorious for Bauer, which is how the Indians came to be involved. Antonetti called Towers and the rest is history.

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    • Krog says:

      The Diamondbacks wanted a shortstop. They’ve spent all offseason trying to get a shortstop. A better package without a shortstop would not have been acceptable. So the Dbacks myopia cost them a chance to turn Bauer into a better package.

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      • batpig says:

        for anyone who has followed Kevin Towers’ career, this line of thinking shouldn’t be a surprise at all. He doesn’t operate in the Billy Beane mold of “just create the most value, and then figure out how to manage the roster later”, he fixates on a specific problem and then doesn’t quit until he solves it, even if he ends up with a suboptimal return… then moves on to the next problem.

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      • akh243 says:

        this makes no sense. if they really just absolutely couldnt stand bauer then why not trade him for a package of equal value and then flip some of that return for gregorius or whomever?

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      • Choo says:

        “…why not trade him for a package of equal value and then flip some of that return for gregorius…?

        That’s sort of what they did, I guess? They just got kinky and swung both trades at the same time.

        Anyhow, from their pile of valuable assets, Arizona identified Bauer as THE guy they could most afford to deal for a young SS and you have to assume they explored every Bauer-related option before doing what they did.

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  2. Pogue009 says:

    Funny if you push that list back to 2000 you find names like Roy Halladay on it, back to the 80s you find Schilling, Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine on it

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Seems like a variety of reasons for that. Teams seem to be drafting more college kids. Also, (in theory) a younger guy would be more likely to be promoted in bad teams at a younger age. For example, guys like Profar and Olt would already be on many teams MLB rosters. Yes I know they aren’t pitchers, but they were the best example of younger guys not getting to the big leagues because of a good MLB player at their position.

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  3. Evan says:

    “But, there are some pitchers with similar pedigrees who got to the big leagues at 21 despite command problems in the same way that Bauer did. Among those on the list:”

    I’m sorry but having a 10% walk rate is NOT having the same command problems as having a 17% walk rate.

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    • Pogue009 says:

      a sample size of 16ip is nowhere big enough to draw any conclusion

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    • SKob says:

      Hey everybody, I’m smart and went to the player page to find the most pointless thing I could say about Bauer!

      Minor league career rate is around 11%. Right around the Latos/Cain numbers… hmmmmmm!

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  4. Stuck in a slump says:

    It takes 550 TBF for BB/9 to stabilize, and yes, Bauer has faced over 700 between the minors and the majors, however, he has never faced more than 350 batters in a single level. The most batters he did face was his brief 82 IP in the PCL where his BB/9 dropped from the 4+ to 3.84, he was incredibly young for the levels he’s pitched at and has only thrown 172.1 IP as a professional pitcher.

    I highly doubt that the Indians throw him in the rotation to start the season, instead they’ll put him in AAA to avoid starting his arbitration clock and may call him up around the ASB. This means that they are probably going to sign at least one FA SP, and probably use Kluber and a combo of Huff/Gomez to round out their rotation (Huff and Gomez have no more options, so this seems even more likely). Bauer doesn’t NEED to pitch in the majors in 2012, the Indians know that they are not going to be able to truly compete unless everything breaks right, so I think that your pessimism for Bauer may be a little unwarranted.

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  5. We have long since learned to avoid drawing conclusion on the basis of small sample sizes. In this article, we are drawing a conclusion by comparing one pitcher’s small sample to other pitchers’ small samples.

    This seems doubly wrong.

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    • Stuck in a slump says:

      I’m actually surprised by the amount of glowing Cameron is doing over this trade, however, he then goes back to his doom and gloom mentality to thrash an incredibly young and talented pitcher who has a good chance and plenty of opportunity to fix this.

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    • Basebull says:

      Dave’s underlying point isn’t incorrect, but yeah. I’d be a rich man if I had a nickle for every time I’ve seen Dave use SSS to shot down an argument out of hand.

      As far as Bauer goes, I see shades of another Diamondbacks farm hand that struck out the world and posted ~10% walk rates in AAA – Max Scherzer, who was useful out of the gate and coming into his own at 27/28. Only difference is Scherzer is a three-pitch pitcher that relies on his fastball while Bauer’s breaking stuff is all potentially plus. He’ll have to hone his command and will probably readjust after a couple of his high fastballs get hammered, but anyone who has watched him pitch can see his ceiling.

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  6. SKob says:

    I totally agree with the premise that Arizona was selling low on Bauer’s value! The reports on this kid from before June last year were sky high. After his callup, he gets a case of the yips and gets injured. He’s never the same after that. Why would you dump him? Saw someone somewhere mention how Frnacona could be really good for a kid with some social issues – I like that thought. Very possible!

    Many of the players referenced here had arm trouble. I really believe this kid is a little ‘out there’, but he is very focused on doing what is best for his body and health. His long toss program is crazy, but he also fully believes he is preventing himself from injury. With the way many teams mishandle their prospects, I wouldn’t hesitate to believe this kid was a little paranoid about changing anything.

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  7. Matt says:

    Wil Myers is a top 10 prospect with fantastic pedigree and one big flaw (contact) who had a great year in the upper minors… “The Royals are complete morons for dealing him.”

    Trevor Bauer is a top 10 prospect with fantastic pedigree and one big flaw (throwing strikes) who had a great year in the upper minors… “Arizona wasn’t totally unjustified in dealing him.”

    Add to it that they both played in the PCL (big time hitters league) and that the Royals got FAR more of a return. What am I missing here besides the obvious Rays-worshipping bias?

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    • Mr. Barfman says:

      The fact that hitting prospects are much more valuable than pitching prospects.

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      • Matt says:

        True, but trading a top 10 pitching prospect (and kicking in a couple of useful bullpen arms) for a C+ type, a crappy reliever, and a non-prospect is not a terrible deal how?

        I’m just pointing out the obvious bias. If the Rays had traded for Bauer we’d get an article about saying something like:

        “There are legitimate concerns about his control and makeup but clearly the Rays FO knows what they’re doing, aren’t too concerned about them, he’s young, etc etc etc. Huge win for Tampa and terrible deal for the D-backs.”

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    • McExpos says:

      This is the example that came to mind. I’m sure that Cameron could argue that Bauer and his mechanics or his unorthodox approach to pitching make him a particularly risky bet, but that’s not the argument that he laid out. He’s arguing based entirely on IP. Maybe he’s right about Bauer, but there’s a different, much better article to be written about the concerns going forward.

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    • Marcus Andrews says:

      The fact that the Royals threw in three more of their best prospects? The fact that pitching prospects burnout about 2.5 times as often as hitting prospects? The fact that the gap between top 5 and top 10 is bigger than your alledging? The fact that one has issues aside from the stats (i.e. personality conflicts)? The fact that the history of power hitters with high k rates being successful is greater than pitchers who walk everyone?

      Shall I continue or have I sufficiently covered “what you’re missing here”?

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      • Matt says:

        Wow, you really know how to parrot back the FG talking points.

        Obviously, I was being a little facetious to make a point.

        When you get down to it, the Diamondbacks just traded a top 10 pitching prospect – a recent #3 overall pick for whom none of the shine has come off (unless you put a lot of stock into 3 MLB starts or that FO’s laughable mishandling of player personalities) – for a no-hit SS prospect that Sickels just gave a C+ grade.

        And they even kicked in a couple of useful bullpen arms, getting back a crappy reliever and non-prospect, to get the deal done.

        True, the Royals-Rays deal was bad. I’m not arguing that point. Having to include Odorizzi wasn’t great either, but at least they got a useful and potentially very good part (Davis) back. Montgomery wasn’t one of their top prospects anymore.

        I like FG a lot, but the argument I’m making here is that writers on this site fawn over their pet FO’s, like the Rays, and rip the ones they’ve decided (with good reason) are stupid, regardless of what they do.

        I think this deal was quite a bit worse than the Rays-Royals deal. But hey, neither the Rays (“best FO ever!”) or the Royals (“worst FO ever!”) were involved, so we don’t get the kind of hyperbole here that we got in the post analyzing that trade.

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    • MLB Rainmaker says:

      Spot on. I couldn’t have said it better.

      Cameron’s completely missed the boat — We’re coming off a year where a team with 70% of its payroll devoted to pitching won the WS for the 2nd time in 3 years(!), and his analysis of both trade is blind to that reality.

      Pitching wins championships, and only the teams with an embarrassment of riches even dare to trade away young quality arms. I’d go further to say there is one rule for MLB GMs — Never trade young arms. Never.

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        If buster posey + Pablo Sandoval and Matt Cain + tim lincecum had opposite service time, the salary split for the giants would not be nearly so lopsided.

        Scoring more runs than your opponent wins championships. In the sense that pitching is a large part of this you are right. But if Scutaro and sandoval don’t go crazy at the tail end of the playoffs perhaps we’re having a different discussion right now.

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      • MLB Rainmaker says:

        To Crumpled:

        You’re joking right? Detroit scored 6 runs in 4 games, and was SWEPT. When you shut a team out, you don’t need much offense…

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      • Am I joking about the service time issue? ie. that the pitchers have big contracts because they happened to reach the majors first.

        Or am I joking about the fact that the Giants needed extra innings to win Game 4 of the World Series?

        That they happened to completely destroy the best pitcher in baseball Justin Verlander in Game 1? (With Barry Zito pitching no less, the same Zito who got pulled after 2.2 innings in Game 4 of the NLDS. Way to go big spending on pitching!) And that the guys who got to Verlander were Sandoval and Scutaro.

        That series easily could easily have been tied 2-2 after four games if offense didn’t matter, and the Tigers could have won two close ones. That doesn’t fit into your narrative of course.

        Or what about the NLCS which went to 7 games. Am I joking about that? Were there shut outs involved yes? But not exclusively, and there were also tons of runs scored by the Giants when they weren’t losing.

        Or what about the 5 game NLDS? Which they won because of semi-adequate pitching and a grand slam. Or do home runs by Buster Posey not count?

        You win by scoring more runs then your opponents. You need a mix of good pitching and good hitting. Most teams salary distributions depend mostly on their players service time. Barry Zito (who I somehow forgot), who is a terrible signing (though no longer a totally awful pitcher) is obviously responsible for a large part of the Giants 70-30 salary distribution.

        Are you really arguing that in order to win a championship you have to give a league average pitcher 20 million per year? Wouldn’t the Giants be better off if that 20 million going to Barry Zito was going to a good player or two good players, pitchers or hitters?

        You win by having the best players. And also luck has a large part to do with it.

        After all, baseball is a sport where it’s not terribly uncommon for the worst team in the game to win three or four games in a row against the best one. Let alone two teams that are virtually equal.

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      • TheCoach says:

        Interesting takes on this trade, some of you actually have a very well grounded knowledge of the game in here. Cameron is not a bad writer here and I do understand his pov. However, i also believe he’s off base here, but perhaps not as much as you. Baur has an incredibly high ceiling, however, track records of malcontent anti-social players with HUGE talent and a self serving ego issues with too many dash’s of paranoia sprinkled in have been abysmally bad. Baseball is a game also about chemistry in the dugout. THAT is incredibly important to a championship team, however, there are rare exceptions even to that rule. Bottom line is you are correct in your assessment of trading away good young pitching. NEVER.

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  8. Crumpled Stiltskin says:

    Halladay, Smoltz, Maddux, Randy Johnson. Pitching is difficult. Even the best of all time often take time to figure it out. Not everyone is Mark Prior or Dwight Gooden or Stephen Strasburg. But what all these guys do have in common is the ability to do at least one and often multiple things exceptionally. You bet on those types of guys.

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  9. mcbrown says:

    Forget Bauer’s small sample size of MLB innings. My big concern is his relatively large sample of minor league innings. His minor league strikeout rate is shiny by itself, but a K/BB of less than 3 doesn’t scream “MLB-ready”. I haven’t been able to find a player with a comparable minor league K/BB ratio that has thrived in the majors.

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    • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

      At least one was mentioned in the previous comment: Roy halladay

      I’d bet randy johnson struggled with k/bb in the minors too. Wouldn’t surprise me, though I wouldn’t bet on it, if Maddux and Smoltz did at some point too.

      Maddux struggled a lot with base on balls in his first two tries in the majors and he turned into probably the greatest command/control pitcher ever.

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      • mcbrown says:

        The Halladay comp is interesting, though the absolute K and BB rates for Halladay were quite different than Bower’s, despite the similar ratio issues. Obviously if Bauer turns into Halladay, even with a Halladay-esque meltdown along the way, the Indians will be thrilled. But Halladay doesn’t seem like a very similar pitcher at all.

        Actually, looking at Dave’s list again Billingsley looks like a really good comp. I’m not sure how I missed that the first time through. He posted a K and BB rates of 26% and 10% respectively in 70 AAA innings, very similar to Bauer’s 28% and 10% in 80 AAA innings. If Bauer turns into Billingsley some people might consider that a disappointment against expectations, but it would be a damned fine return for the Indians.

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      • Crumpled Stiltskin says:

        Obviously there are studies that show that there are standard aging curves for the effectiveness and speeds of certain pitches? But are there corresponding studies that relate those curves to questions of command and control?

        I don’t think it’s as simple as picking a guy with similar stuff since I see the question of stuff and the ability to use it as very different. Bauer right now is a thrower. The question is if he’ll become a pitcher, and there are examples of guys who do (Maddux, glavine, halladay, Smoltz, halladay, gio gonzalez, etc …) and guys who don’t (Andrew miller, jonathon Sanchez).

        Really he could be either, and I don’t know which. No one does, though having an organization that suports him and a pitching coach he can work with will go a long way to determine which. But if I were a mid market team, I would always take this type of gamble.

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  10. Choo says:

    Dave points out a chink in Bauer’s armor, provides us with recent examples of similarly armored pitchers, and then wraps it up by saying the Indians will win this deal in a landslide even if Bauer only marginally improves?

    That effing bastard . . .

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  11. philosofool says:

    So the Indians don’t want Ben Broussard and Shawn Nottingham back?

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