Ode to a Pitcher: Trevor Bauer has a new toy and likes to throw it

Image result for trevor bauer
Trevor Bauer‘s aptitude for the art of pitching has served him well.

We all need a hobby. Something to do in our free time.

Maybe you play PS4. Watch a movie. Troll around on Reddit.

Trevor Bauer has one, too; he likes to spend his comfortable offseason developing sweet new pitches.

Last season, he whipped up a slider with the magicians/mad scientists at Driveline Baseball. It was a huge success: it ranked as the 13th best slider in baseball (minimum 150 innings) last year according to Fangraphs, just ahead of Max Scherzer. He took a non-entity of a pitch and made it a weapon.

He pulled the same trick again this winter, this time working on a changeup. As we’ll see today, Bauer’s efforts are paying off. A great changeup needs to move, be noticeably softer than the fastball and look the same out of the hand. You’ll be shocked — especially those of you who’ve read about Kevin Kelleher’s work at Driveline — that Bauer’s done all of that and more.

Look, I don’t say this lightly, but Bauer’s arsenal belongs in the conversation with Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and the other elites. I might be forgetting some folks, but those three stand out.

Any pitch at any time. The right pitch for any situation.

Bauer’s 2018 was a tremendous success — 175.1 IP, 198 ERA+, 3.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio. A couple unfortunate injuries kept him from a serious run at the Cy Young, which of course ultimately went to last week’s Ode to a Pitcher breakdown, Blake Snell. I might end up regretting not going with the Indians righty for this year’s award, because so far he looks better than ever.

Bauer faced the Seattle Mariners on Tax Day, and while overall it wasn’t his best start of the season (uh, he nearly threw a no-hitter a week-ish ago), he flashed that beautiful, tunnel-rific changeup enough that I couldn’t resist.

***

I don’t know if this is possible, but if a pitcher can have a perfectly efficient delivery, Bauer either already has it or will figure it out. He moves with such little wasted motion and from an arm angle that allows his vast repertoire to flourish with the kind of deception you’d expect from a pitcher like him. Bauer starts Mallex Smith off with a hard fastball with a lovely late arm-side run to it. Despite missing (did it?), that fastball is something else.

Smith Pitch 1 FB

Bauer brings the same pitch belt middle-in, letting the fastball run back to the inside corner. Familiar readers of this series know how I love a pitcher who works both sides of the plate, and I assure you Bauer happily does so. (Editor’s note: Sorry for the quick-cut gif here, the SportsTime Ohio broadcast was lingering elsewhere before snapping back.)

Smith Pitch 2 FB

Our first changeup! Bauer leaves it up in the zone but Smith grounds out harmlessly. You know, an epic strikeout is truly a moment to behold, but we shouldn’t look past the glory of a weak groundout. It’s an out, my dude, and every last one of them is precious. (This, of course, is why most bunts are foolish.)

Smith Pitch 3 CH

Mitch Haniger watches a fastball miss below the zone for ball one.

Haniger Pitch 1 FB

Bauer runs the next fastball over the outside corner for strike one. Look at the late movement on that sucker. Yowza.

Haniger Pitch 2 FB

With the count 1-1, Bauer misses with a changeup that runs right onto Haniger’s hands. That’s an 87 MPH changeup with incredible arm-side movement.

Haniger Pitch 3 FB

Take another look at that same pitch:

Haniger Pitch 3 FB SLOMO

Firmly in a pitcher’s count — 1-2 — Bauer has the whole playbook available to him. How about that excellent slider? Maybe his curve — readers know how I lust after a great curve. Another fastball?

Ultimately Bauer goes to the gas, missing high. Did he intend on climbing that far up? Probably not, but it keeps Haniger’s eyes up and makes a below-the-knees breaking ball even more difficult to handle.

Haniger Pitch 4 FB

You know, cutters are kind of the pitch de jour right now. Understandably so: a great cutter is a true pain in the ass for the batter. Before that, sliders and splitters were sort of en vogue, in great part because of how well they play off the fastball — think Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson for the slider, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling for the splitter. Pretty darn great.

There’s nothing revolutionary about a changeup. Pitchers have been hurling them for a long, long time, and for good reason: they work. The pitch Trevor Bauer spent all winter developing isn’t new, isn’t cutting edge, but my God is it ever sexy.

This is an unbelievably good pitch to Mitch Haniger. The speed difference is a healthy 7 or 8 MPH off the fastball, it’s sequenced wonderfully after the changeup near the eyes and the fastball high and way, and the ball starts off the plate and runs back below the swing. This is a pitcher with great stuff and an even better understanding of how to attack a hitter.

Haniger Pitch 5 CH

With two down, up steps Domingo Santana. What happens next is frankly terrifying.

Liners back to the pitcher happen all the time. We get kinda used to it as viewers, right? Weird, eh? I assume the same is true for pitchers, that it’s a risk you take whenever you throw a pitch. Blessedly, this liner nearly went right into Bauer’s glove, but if it had taken only a slightly different course …

Santana Pitch 1 CT

Here’s a slower version of it:

Santana Pitch 1 Liner

The Indians trainers came out right after and spoke with Bauer. He seemed eager to get back after it, facing Daniel Vogelbach with a runner on. The analytically-minded righty hops back into the fray with a fastball that runs just below the zone for ball one.

Vogelbach Pitch 1 FB

Another great sequencing example here. Vogelbach watches a fastball miss down and in for ball one, and Bauer follows it up with another fastball in the opposite corner. Look, it might seem obvious, but moving around the zone keeps the hitter from getting too comfortable.

Hitters are really good at what they do. They can read releases, analyze patterns and react on the fly. This series marvels at pitchers, but the same could be done for hitters. So what’s a pitcher to do? Well, the great Warren Spahn told us the path: Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.

How does working in different parts of the zone upset timing? Good question. Moving the ball around prevents the batter from keying in on one part of the plate, forcing them to potentially react later because the playing field is so wide. The equivalent in football is a quarterback who can throw to both sides of the field. Bauer owns the plate.

Vogelbach Pitch 2 FB

Sitting 1-1, Bauer breaks out the curve, dropping it right under Vogelbach’s hands for a called strike two. Even if it seems a little high in the zone for a breaking ball, the batter watches it go by. Now Bauer’s firmly in control.

Vogelbach Pitch 3 CB

Bauer doubles up on the curve, dropping this one down at the knees, forcing Vogelbach to knock it foul. As ugly as it might seem, I’m impressed with that defensive hack — remember, avoiding the out is everything, and the batter just gave himself another breath. For all we know, Bauer could groove a fastball and the Mariners tie the game on one swing. It’s baseball. We never know.

Vogelbach Pitch 4 CB

Sequencing. SEQUENCING. Bauer has worked every quadrant of the zone except down and away. He’s gone hard inside, soft away, soft inside and now hard inside again. This is brilliant stuff. Yes, I know the pitch missed — don’t miss the point. Bauer has again forced Vogelbach to consider the top of the zone, and very nearly punched him out. The batter now has a ton of input to consider before the next pitch.

Vogelbach Pitch 5 FB

Man oh man. An excellent pitch used masterfully, like a high-performance car with an Andretti behind the wheel. Bauer was in firm control from the first pitch, nearly finishing the at-bat before this but always working the situation toward the out. Make no mistake, Bauer has developed into an ace and as it stands now, he’s arguably the best pitcher in the American League.

Great stuff mixed with an excellent approach gives you moments like this.

Vogelbach Pitch 6 CH

***

This is hardly breaking news, but Bauer, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are absolutely critical to Cleveland’s championship aspirations, flimsy as they might appear relative to previous seasons. With the Indians weathering Jose Ramirez’s slump, eagerly awaiting shortstop Francisco Lindor‘s return and navigating the loss of Mike Clevinger, Bauer’s emergence into the highest class of big league hurler last season sure has come in handy.

Opposing batters will be seeing a lot more of that changeup.

Read previous Ode to a Pitchers here.

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