Trevor Bauer has had a few big things going in his favor. For one, most conspicuously, he’s long been in possession of what they call an electric arm. He’s been able to run his fastball up there in the mid-90s, and while an electric arm doesn’t automatically bring one success, it does guarantee one several opportunities. So, Bauer’s arm has been a blessing. Bauer, also, is intellectual and curious about his work, to an extreme extent. Bauer’s always willing to try new things in the name of self-improvement, and while that’s sometimes gotten him in trouble, it reflects a strong inner desire to be the best pitcher he can become.
The only problem was that Bauer didn’t throw strikes. The thing about strikes is that they can have a snowballing effect. If a guy can throw strikes, hitters will be more willing to go after balls, generating only more strikes. If a guy can’t throw strikes, hitters won’t take him so seriously, and they’ll sit on pitches down the middle. Bauer, for a while, had everything but the most important thing, and some people began to think of him as an overrated prospect. Bauer, today, has the same 2014 strike rate as Cole Hamels.
Over four starts. Granted. He’s started in the majors four times in 2012, four times in 2013, and four times in 2014. The samples are pathetic, but the differences are striking, and they’ve existed also in the minor leagues. Quickly:
12-13: 59% strikes
12-13: 57% strikes
Over his first eight big-league starts, Bauer walked 29 of 158 batters. Over this year’s four starts, he’s walked nine of 95 batters, with a far better rate of strikeouts. What the numbers hint at is that something has clicked. And if something has clicked, it seems like it’s explicable.
It’s not that Bauer has changed his style, exactly. A year ago, Bauer had baseball’s highest rate of pitches thrown at least three feet off the ground. This year, he still has baseball’s highest rate of pitches thrown at least three feet off the ground. Bauer’s an up-and-down kind of pitcher, mostly up, and that’s probably what he’s going to remain. The difference is he’s making more of that style, and it probably traces back to his altered mechanics.
Over the offseason, Bauer re-tooled his delivery, kind of picking elements back up from how he used to throw. He’s certainly no stranger to various tweaks. Below, you’re going to see two fastballs, one from 2013, and one from 2014. What I’m most definitely not is an expert on pitching mechanics, but even I can see a couple obvious changes. And while I understand the samples here are 1 and 1, this is an accurate reflection of how Bauer threw and is throwing now.
Pitching mechanics can be hard to compare in moving .gifs. So let’s highlight two particular areas, with still screenshots. Let’s check in first on where Bauer removes the ball from the glove.
In 2014, he’s separating his hands higher. And, in 2014, he separates his hands with his knee still up near his belt. His left leg, a year ago, was almost all the way down when his hands separated, no longer bent. I’ll let experts explain the consequences — I’m just here to point out what’s different.
And now let’s look at Bauer reaching back.
There’s a subtle difference with Bauer’s left foot, but this is mostly about his shoulders and glove. A year ago, Bauer’s shoulders were mostly level, and he had his glove down near his front knee. This year, he has a higher front side, and his glove is up around shoulder level. Not only might this give him a little added deception — the idea is to consistently direct Bauer’s momentum, and while not all tweaks work out, right now it’s hard to argue with the changes Bauer has made.
First and foremost, his velocity is up, and it’s up across the board on all of his pitches. According to our pages, Bauer’s fastball is up about two ticks from last year. According to Brooks Baseball, it’s up about three ticks, and everything he throws is sharper. Instead of being a low- to mid-90s guy, he’s a mid- to high-90s guy, and added velocity helps everything. Pitchers don’t get worse when they throw harder.
There’s also the improvement in fastball location. Bauer mainly wants to use his heater over the plate and up. Before, 23% of his fastballs missed off the plate, glove-side. So far this year, he’s at 10%. And, before, 13% of his fastballs missed down. So far this year, he’s at 5%. Bauer still throws out of the zone more than half the time, but he throws those pitches to better spots, because he throws most of his pitches to better spots, because his command has improved. He’s achieved greater mechanical consistency, and improved consistency plus improved velocity is what can turn a would-be bust into a capable big-league starter.
There’s one more thing — Bauer’s pitches, courtesy of Texas Leaguers.
Suddenly, there’s space filled that wasn’t filled before. I don’t want to try to label Bauer’s pitches, but a pitch he’s throwing now looks a lot like a cutter. If you listen to Brooks Baseball, Bauer’s throwing that pitch 11% of the time. He’s cut down on offspeed stuff to focus on a little more hard stuff. He’s thrown that cutter for strikes 79% of the time. It’s not a major weapon, but it’s a different look.
The short of it: Bauer changed his mechanics. Now he’s throwing harder with better location, and he’s getting more strikes. He’s also introduced something that looks like a cutter, no matter what Bauer might call it. Where, before, hitters were content to wait and force Bauer to throw strikes, now Bauer is keeping those hitters honest. Previously, against Bauer, hitters swung 38% of the time, and 22% of the time at pitches out of the zone. Now they’ve swung 50% of the time, and 36% of the time at pitches out of the zone. Bauer’s getting some of that snowball effect, and so everything’s going better. He’s still just 23 years old.
This is a pitcher who looks like he’s on the right track. Given all the high fastballs, Bauer’s probably going to allow his fly balls and home runs, but if the consistency sticks, then Bauer will have made the adjustments necessary to have a good career. The thing about guys with good arms is you never know when they might learn that one important lesson. That’s why they get so many opportunities in the first place. Bauer’s always been able to get attention. Now it looks like he might be able to keep it.
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