Trevor Bauer exudes professionalism. Okay, maybe that’s walking it a bit too far out, considering his relentless drive to shed light on shady tar scenarios with the Houston Astros pitching staff or some unapologetically direct political commentary.1 So, let’s narrow down the professionalism classification just a bit. In this case, professionalism means identifying with and burying yourself into your possession – whether that is best highlighted by his countless hours spent mapping out game plans or his tireless drive towards finding his physical peak is up to the beholder. There are many ways to detract from as well as glorify Bauer’s greatness, but none of these are as strong of a driver as the tightly wound up ball of emotion that he is every fifth day.
It rubs some the wrong way. The “come on, man” facial expression when a teammate boots a ball. The cold shoulder to the umpire after a should-have-been strike three. The frustration that almost boils over when he can’t find the command consistency that he has spent decades perfecting. Every fiber of Trevor Bauer’s being is dedicated to finding the next inefficiency in the opposing hitter’s profiles, thus the lines of what may or may not be controllable get blurry in a hurry. The emotional reactions to bad bounces are not controllable. They are Trevor Bauer, who happens to be the early August frontrunner for the 2018 American League Cy Young.
On a night in which he eclipsed 200 strikeouts just 68.5 percent of the way through the season, Trevor Bauer was every bit as effective as you’d expect from a Cy Young candidate. He continued a trend of mixing and matching his diverse repertoire to fit the hitter, leaning on curveballs and sliders early and often.
Much has been written about the development of his slider this past offseason, but revisiting its effectiveness seems necessary given his astronomic leap from last year to this year. He has essentially ditched his changeup and sinker, as classified by Brooks Baseball, in the transition, utilizing them only at choice moments. The slider substitution has provided a bounty of swings and misses from his opponents.
Plate discipline figures are usually quite explanatory of the effectiveness of a shift made by a pitcher. Starting with an emphasis on throwing first-pitch strikes, moving towards less contact and more whiffs. The stability of Bauer’s pre-2018 contact and swinging strike percentages offer us a baseline for what to expect, as zebras don’t change stripes overnight. That is unless they have infused a new undeniably effective pitch into their repertoire. Looking at you, Trevor Bauer.
The deviation and forty-plus percent hike in whiffs induced is alone indicative of success with the slider. But that can be even further expanded upon when drilling down into pitch types and their respective whiff results, as permitted by the wonderful folks over at Brooks Baseball.
This graphic demonstrates his transition into slider usage at the expense of his fringe pitches, the changeup, splitter, and sinker. The fastball and curve continue to be the most prominent, with the cutter and newly coined slider in tow.
Important: The slider is downright effective in missing bats. He essentially traded in his changeup, which redeems a modest ten percent whiff rate, for a slider that has a rolling average of inducing whiffs at a greater than twenty percent clip. Weighted pitch values, while an inexact science to say the least, mirror the whiff rate in explaining the effectiveness of the slider, as only Blake Snell’s slider surpasses Bauer’s in terms of overall effectiveness.
The shift in Bauer’s whiff profile offers an intriguing avenue for the formation of a secondary hypothesis relating to his cutter. As is depicted in the graphic, it is evident that the cutter has been a tad more effective. Though pitch values don’t offer any insight into its transformation, it could be deduced that the cutter has been an accomplice in the slider’s success. Given what we know about pitch tunneling, pitch spin, and the delivery’s impact on the batter’s ability to see the ball, it would make theoretical sense to conclude that the slider and cutter look mighty similar out of Bauer’s hand and come out of the same “tunnel”, thus adding to the layers of confusion already introduced with a diverse profile such as Bauer’s.
It doesn’t take a homer to see where Trevor Bauer fits into the Cy Young conversation. The topic is as relevant as ever, with the main competition for the award, Chris Sale, hitting the disabled list with vague arm issues. A cursory glance at the Fangraphs pitching leaderboards reveals Bauer’s name atop the fWAR list with 5.7 wins above replacement. The peripheral gaps all tend to lean in Sale’s favor for the time being, though Bauer’s most recent masterpiece narrowed the FIP and ERA gaps considerably.
Around this time last year, we were lamenting Kluber’s Cy Young chances based on Sale’s utter dominance, despite a historic stretch by Kluber from June through the time in question. Fast-forward a couple months, the Sale shine had worn off, in part thanks to a drubbing at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, cracking the door open just wide enough for Kluber to shoot through and grab the American League Cy Young award.
Sale’s injury offers Bauer a similarly cracked open door. Nearly sixty percent of the Indians’ remaining games are against offensively offensive American League Central foes, while Sale’s opposition will assuredly be more daunting. The continuing mystification of the Royals, Tigers, Twins, and White Sox at the hands of Trevor Bauer will provide us with a thrilling Cy Young duel through the dog days of September.
The articles proclaiming him to be a “dark horse” for the 2018 Cy Young award shall henceforth be scrapped. No need to drone on about how no one saw this ascension coming – Trevor Bauer saw it coming a mile away, and isn’t likely to easily relinquish his role as a frontrunner for the award.
- Editor’s note: not to mention his fondness of a few…more childish numbers. [↩]