In a trade that shocked many, the Reds traded for Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer. This post is not a comprehensive evaluation of the trade. It’s an in-depth look at what the Reds acquired in Bauer.
Career Through 2018
The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Trevor Bauer out of UCLA where he had majored in mechanical engineering. Sounds about right. He was their first round pick, third overall, in the 2011 draft.
A year later, Bauer debuted for the D-Backs, starting a game on June 28. He pitched four innings. His fourth and final start that season was at Great American Ball Park in a game I saw. Ryan Ludwick hit a homer and five Reds pitchers shut out Arizona. The Reds were on their way to 97 wins and a second N.L. Central Division championship in two seasons.
Seven years later, the Reds acquired Bauer from the Cleveland Indians with the plan that he’ll help them return to past glories.
Arizona traded Trevor Bauer at the end of 2012. He went to Cleveland as part of the three-way deal that sent Shin-Soo Choo here for a season. From 2013 through 2019, Bauer made 170 starts for the Indians. He’s only landed on the DL/IL once, in August of 2018 when he took a line drive off his right leg that fractured his fibula. Bauer missed five weeks.
Bauer was a part of three championship teams with Cleveland. He made six postseason starts.
At age 28, Trevor Bauer is earning $13 million in 2019. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility 2020 and is expected to earn in the neighborhood of $18-20 million. In 2021, he’ll be a a free agent.
Bauer became an effective starting pitcher in 2016. Since then, his xFIP has never been worse than average. In 2017, his xFIP of 3.60 was 18% below league average. The following year, his best as a major league pitcher, his 3.14 xFIP was 26% below league average. He struck out 31% of the batters he faced in 2018, 6th best in the majors.
Bauer in 2019
In 2019, Bauer’s xFIP has jumped from 3.14 to 4.28. About a third of that is league-wide due to the juiced ball. But he’s also given up much harder contact. His xwOBA is .314 in 2019 compared to a glittering .264 last season. Bauer finished 7th in that category last year, behind the names Sale, Verlander, deGrom, Scherzer, Buehler and Nola.
This year, among the 147 starting pitchers that have allowed 250 balls to be put in play (that’s close to 5 pitchers per team), Bauer ranks #63. Here is how he compares to other Reds starters in xwOBA:
- Sonny Gray (.282)
- Luis Castillo (.282)
- Anthony DeSclafani (.304)
- Trevor Bauer (.314)
- Tyler Mahle (.315)
- Tanner Roark (.338)
Bauer says he’s been hampered by injuries most of the season but was determined not to go on the Injured List because so many of his teammates were stricken with illness or injury. He’s expecting to be healthy the final two months of the 2019 season. Here’s what he said yesterday:
“One of the things I’m most proud about is that I haven’t missed a start this year, through two months of probably needing to be on the IL and probably should have missed the starts. … I think I’ve only had, maybe, seven or eight healthy starts this year, fully healthy starts. … There’s still two months left in the season and I’m looking forward to hopefully having my two full healthy months. I finally felt like I was back to myself five or six starts ago and then got sick for a couple starts. So hopefully that turns around. I have two months when I can be healthy and finishing the season pitching how I know I can pitch.” [Zack Meisel, The Athletic]
In fact, Bauer leads MLB in innings pitched in 2019.
Trevor Bauer has a five-pitch repertoire. He throws a 4-seam, 95-mph fastball about 40% of the time. His best pitch is a straight up-and-down 79-mph curveball that he throws 20% of his pitches. Add in a slider (15%), cut fastball (15%) and a change-up (10%).
Bauer is most known for his curveball, which has an astonishing 9.3 inches of vertical drop (that takes into account natural fall from gravity). That’s the nastiest bite for any major league pitcher who has thrown at least 100 curves. You can get an idea of the uniqueness of Bauer’s curveball in this graph.
[Graphic: Baseball Savant, although the red arrow is mine]
The red arrow is pointing at the movement on Trevor Bauer’s curveball setting the lower boundary of the graph. Only a couple pitchers are even close. It generates a huge number of whiffs and ground balls.
Bauer also has a nasty slider with 8.6 inches of horizontal break. He’ll join teammate Sonny Gray at the top of that leaderboard with exceptional depth. Gray’s slider breaks 10.2 inches and ranks third in baseball.
Bauer is a strikeout pitcher. Even this season he’s striking out 28% of the batters he faces, which puts him in the top 16 along with Gray and Castillo.
Science and Data
Another unique quality Bauer has is his immersion in science and data to inform his pitching, all the way to his pitch design. Bauer has not only pioneered these practices for himself, he helps teammates. Here is what Cleveland pitcher Mike Clevinger said about Bauer on Tuesday:
“He’s been instrumental in not just my development, but everyone you’ve seen on the mound after me has been hands-on with him. There’s not one person who goes out there who hasn’t been hands-on with him, one-on-one time for hours, with him looking at video of them on the mound. So I think a lot of the stuff you’re seeing right now is the organization, everything they look into, but also what he’s been doing to help change the culture here.” [Zack Meisel, The Athletic]
The Reds are surely hoping that working with pitching coaches Derek Johnson and Caleb Cotham will help Bauer return to his 2018 form. Cotham and Bauer are connected by their previous time training at Driveline Baseball, a high-tech baseball workshop in suburban Seattle. He was named to the A.L. All-Star team that season and was sixth in the voting for the A.L. Cy Young despite missing more than a month with the fractured leg.
The Reds acquired Trevor Bauer for the last two months of 2019 and all of 2020. Bauer’s upside is being one of the top pitchers in baseball. He’ll likely slot in with Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray to form a strong and equal 1-2-3 at the top of the rotation.
Bauer had personality issues during his time in Cleveland. But as the Reds experience with Yasiel Puig demonstrated, the change of scenery offered by a trade can mean a clean slate and opportunity for redemption.
Trevor Bauer’s acquisition sent a strong message to the clubhouse that the front office is playing to win this year and next. It could offer a spark for the team to redouble its efforts as baseball enters the dog days of August. When Bauer takes the mound this weekend in a Cincinnati uniform against the Atlanta Braves, he’ll give the Reds a better chance to win. He might even dominate the game.
[Featured image: https://twitter.com/MLB/status/1146226378280525829]