Trevor Bauer and the Leap

Trevor Bauer the enigma. Trevor Bauer the drone specialist. Trevor Bauer the pitching scientist. Like Joba Chamberlain and the midges, Bauer and his eccentricities are one of the more overdone narratives of Indians coverage. This is not to say that Bauer and his beautiful mind are not compelling. Indeed, if I could grab a beer with any Indian, Bauer would top the list, just to pick his brain. Yet in our conversations regarding Bauer we often get lost in the philosophical underpinnings of his style rather than what the outcomes can tell us.

At times, I like any Indians fan, have felt that Bauer's mind is a nightmare dressed like a daydream. Yet, as spring training returns and we peak at Bauer's arsenal again I cannot help but to dream about the day when he wakes up and finds that what he's looking for has been here the whole time.

With all this pithy insight from Taylor Swift, I should digress into the analysis. The question being, will "Sparks Fly" or will Bauer meet the fate of Icarus.  For the Indians, a Bauer breakout and stable health for the front three almost certainly means a playoff appearance. The question which faces us, is whether Bauer's chances of breakout are merely fleeting or something more than that.

In a simplistic sense, betting against a 25 year old pitcher whose fastball sits at 93 MPH and pairs with a plus curve ball sounds pretty foolish. Perhaps it is but this is the irritating predicament in which Bauer places us.

Bauer's arsenal is so good that like Carrasco's early career it is irritating to observe a pitcher this talented struggle to make the leap to something very good.

The components are in some ways positive, Bauer struck out 8.69 per nine innings in 2015 taking a small step forward. But the Achilles Heal remains that of control. Bauer walked just over four per nine innings in 2015 which simply will not allow him to be anything more than average, the question is, can he fix it? And perhaps, how does he plan to fix it?

On the how, Jordan Bastian talked to Callaway on what Bauer is working on this spring:

The sinker and cutter are particularly interesting as Bauer altered his arsenal over the course of  2015 in a way in which I didn't even notice until I started writing this article.

Interestingly there are classification issues, while Fangraphs has Bauer increasing usage of the two-seam fastball as well, it is clear the cutter gets dropped into a few different buckets. Progressing all the same, Bauer's two-seam/sinker usage spiked in the second half, the corresponding result? Increased ground balls and decreasing fly balls. 44.9% of contact against were fly balls in the first half to just 34.9% in the second half. It would appear that Bauer is in the midst of a contact type evolution. Is this a positive step?

The answer to that question, is unfortunately, we don't know yet. Bauer's walk rate spiked alongside his increased usage of the sinker/two seamer. This could be related to usage or it could be because he wore down physically, sapping control. Considering Bauer's relative arm strength, the second answer seems unlikely.

Bauer threw the sinker for strikes only 49% of the time, while throwing his four seam fastball for strikes only 51% of the time. Ultimately, the control has to progress on either pitch. But the bigger problem was when the sinker was in the zone, Hitter's made contact 95% of the time when it was in the strike zone and rarely chased it outside the zone. What's is more the contact was hard, 32% line drives because the sinker was left up too often.

Of course Bauer practices effective velocity philosophy which requires usage at the top of the strike zone but in general Bauer left his sinker in the middle of the zone too frequently.

The evolution of Bauer from four-seam dominant to using the sinker heavily can be a positive one.  Pitching in front of Uribe-Lindor-Kipnis-Napoli will be rewarding for ground ball pitching. Further, right handed pitchers who give up a lot of fly balls are punished by Progressive Field's short right field fence. There are a lot of potential positives to this adaptation.

The command can improve as usage grows. This is a transition he made during the middle of the season, so expecting him to command the pitch well already would be foolish. However, be it the sinker or the four-seam, he has to be able to use one of them to get ahead in the count. Both the curve ball(career wRC+ against 17, batting average against .138) and the cutter(wRC+ 93, BAA 93) are good pitches but they cannot truly play up unless he can start to get ahead on a more frequent basis.

All the graphics in the world cannot  give us an inkling as to whether Bauer will curb his walk rate enough to become elite but that brings us back to the simple take. Trevor Bauer is only 25 years old, has an outstanding arsenal and good guidance. Bauer improving isn't a great bet but it is a good one, and one that I am certainly willing to make.

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