Trevor Bauer, Now Featuring Strikes

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:

Minors

12-13: 59% strikes
2014: 63%

Majors

12-13: 57% strikes
2014: 65%

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.

2013

Bauer2013.gif.opt

2014

Bauer2014.gif.opt

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.

2013

bauerbreak2013

2014

bauerbreak2014

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.

2013

bauerreach2013

2014

bauerreach2014

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.

2012-2013

bauerpitches1213

2014

bauerpitches2014

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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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

36 Responses to “Trevor Bauer, Now Featuring Strikes”

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  1. Kyle Boddy says:

    Nice article, full of actual data and some subjective thoughts as well. Absolutely crushes the majority of the crap written about him :)

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    • Steve says:

      Kyle, I can’t tell from your countless snarky comments on any and every Bauer article out there, are you a fan of Bauer or not?

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      • Jon says:

        I hope so since he worked with him last off-season!

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      • Dave says:

        Trevor trained with Kyle during the offseason. You should follow Kyle on Twitter: @drivelinebases. My son is using his youth program.

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        • Steve says:

          I guess I should have used a sarcasm tag. I know Kyle worked with Bauer, because Kyle makes sure he lets everyone know.

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  2. LD31 says:

    As a Bauer owner, this is encouraging.

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  3. K Towers says:

    BUT HE’S NOT EXPERIENCED RIGHT NOW. AND I WANT EXPERIENCE NOWWW!

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      I understand that you are not the real Kevin Towers, but I would like to take a moment to tell you how awful you are.

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      • Jon says:

        Ruben Amaro appearance in 3…2…1…

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        • TangoAlphaLima says:

          That’s not how it works. You have to say his name three times, just like Beetlejuice. He then appears and hands out absurd contracts to aging veterans like a senior citizen hands out Werther’s caramels to children.

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        • Ruben Amaro says:

          Sorry I’m late. What did I miss?

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        • Robert Hombre says:

          Baseless slander against your Comrade-in-Arms, is what you’ve missed.

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  4. TangoAlphaLima says:

    Jeff, I seem to recall reading that Bauer had previously toed the rubber from different locations, but this year he’s sticking with one spot (looks to be the 1st base side from the above pictures). Did your research turn up anything on this?

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  5. JoeyBatts says:

    Someone really needs to just explain to him GB>FB>LD. But he seems content on living in the upper third of the strikezone.

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      It’s a conscious strategy. He wants to set guys up by pitching in the upper fifth of the strikezone, where it’s hard to make good contact against a hard fastball, and then bury them with breaking balls low.

      He thinks it’s worth it to trade a few HRs for more Ks, essentially.

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    • isavage30 says:

      Giving up ground balls to the Indians infielders is not necessarily a recipe for success

      +22 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kyle Boddy says:

      You should look at Chris Young’s interview on this site with Eno Sarris.

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    • LHPSU says:

      If you have a good fastball, living up in the strike zone isn’t such a bad idea because a high, hard strike is hard to catch up to.

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  6. d_i says:

    I watched his start against the O’s – he was ALL OVER the place even though he just walked three. He was rarely close to the pud. The progress might be real and he could burn me if it is, but I decided to cash in and sell in case he turns back into a pumpkin.

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    • isavage30 says:

      Probably not wise to make judgment off of a 1-game sample. Bauer performed poorly in that 1 start and was all over the place. He performed well in the other starts and was much less all over the place.

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    • Orsulakfan says:

      I was at that game too. While his command was off and he ended with a bad outing and line, you could see he has a great arm. I think he still K’d 7 in the game. He gave up some bloops (Schoop’s RBI hit to open the O’s scoring). Cruz got him for a HR but he’s hitting everybody right now. I came away from that game impressed, even though he got beat.

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  7. d_i says:

    What’s more reactionary, me not buying into a guy who has had a sample of 11 good starts this year after he’s had 59 in the years prior with dreadful walk rates or others saying he’s fixed?

    I’m readily admitting I could be wrong and it could be real for all the reasons Jeff states, but I wouldn’t call his control problems a one game sample (though I know I mentioned specifically the one game).

    He’s earned his reputation over time. It’s like Shaq making 10 free throws in a row – it’s going to take a little more than that for me to believe.

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    • Jimmer says:

      He’s earned his reputation over time? 12 starts in the majors. That’s nothing.

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    • Marco says:

      But if Shaq had completely reworked his free throw shooting motion and was taking a different approach….

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      • supgreg says:

        There is no wrong or right answer, only the process. Its reasonable to think Bauer has “fixed” his flaws, its also reasonable to think that he hasn’t.

        Go back and look at the ups and downs of Cliff Lee’s early career. Look at Kershaw’s BB% the 1st 3 years of his career. Those are examples of someone “figuring it out”.

        Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez are a couple guys that haven’t. Bauer could be living in a momentary stretch of greatness, only to become a “pumpkin” again.

        I don’t blame d_i for trading Bauer, there is plenty of room for this to be his high point, particularly in a re-draft league. Personally, I hope Bauer stays hot, I’m gambling on having the good Bauer all season.

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  8. Edgardo says:

    Isn’t there a huge difference also in his side step?? y left leg seems to go really high right now

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  9. Not a Scout says:

    One of the things that Bauer discussed in his post-game interview after the Colorado game was that he was a little off-balance and his lower half was going a little bit quick (http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2014/05/trevor_bauer_postgame_video.html). That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed from last year to this year. Last year he had no semblance of a balance point and his lower-half would get out ahead of his upper-half and then he’d have to rush his delivery to keep in sync with his drive off the rubber. I think that change is what these images are showing, to a large extent. His changes in posture are a product of working to find a balance point. As for whether it’s the balance point or the side effects that are responsible for his improved control, I can’t say.

    I’ve seen a lot of other pitchers with similar deliveries and they seem to have this same issue. There are a lot of moving parts in a wind-up and delivery and it’s an athletic feat to be able to coordinate them all to deliver the ball where you want it to go. If you’re off balance, something will be out of sync and you compensate by speeding up or slowing down some other part of the motion.

    I’m not saying that having a good balance point accounts for 100% of the variation in the location of the baseball or anything–and I realize that pitching from the stretch is a whole different animal–but I think this is important in Bauer’s case.

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    • Not a Scout says:

      Just to clarify, in that interview he was talking about his not so great start in the O’s game, not his stellar start against Colorado.

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  10. Joe says:

    I can’t explain it, but something about the way Trevor Bauer pitches and moves his body that reminds me of Roy Oswalt. Not sure if this is quantifiable, but as an Astros fan, I watched a lot of Oswalt in his prime.

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