by Steve Mancuso

Anatomy of Trevor Bauer’s glorious Cy Young season

Last night, Trevor Bauer became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award while playing with the Reds. Bauer received 27 of the 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers of America Association. Yu Darvish of the Cubs received the other three top votes.

Bauer put up a tremendous  2020 season, bouncing back from a lackluster 2019. The 29-year-old right-hander led the National League led major league starters in xwOBA (a measure of quality of contact against, strikeouts and walks). A distant second in that category was AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. Bauer was first in the NL in ERA, xERA and xBattingAverage against.

My go-to stats in evaluating how a pitcher performed are strikeouts and walks. In 2020, Bauer set career bests in both, with a strikeout rate of 36% and walk-rate of 6.1%. Among starting pitchers, Bauer’s K%-BB% was third best in the majors. First was Shane Bieber, the unanimous AL Cy Young winner. Second was Jacob deGrom, who won the 2018 and 2019 NL Cy Young.

Here is a chronicle of Bauer’s eleven starts in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

July 26 (Detroit)

Trevor Bauer’s first start of his Cy Young campaign was in the third game of the Reds season, a 3-2 loss to the Tigers. It was the final game of the opening 2020 series at GABP. Bauer gave up one run, two hits and a walk. He gave up just two hard-hit balls. Bauer struck out 13 Detroit batters in 6.1 innings. The game was tied 1-1 when he left. [Game analysis, Matt Wilkes]

Bauer’s most used pitch in 2020 was the four-seam fastball which he threw 46.7% of the time. His average fastball velocity of 93.5 mph was well below league standards these days. But what makes Bauer’s heater so tough is the spin rate, which was the best in the major leagues in 2020. Fastball spin, which is backspin and fights gravity, keeps the ball from falling as much as average. Bauer’s spin rate generated 3.9 inches less drop than the average fastball. That’s important considering the baseball itself is less than 3 inches in diameter. Batters had a tendency to swing under Bauer’s fastball or pop it up.

Here CJ Cron strikes out against Bauer’s four-seamer. 

 

August 2 (at Detroit)

A week later, Bauer pitched a rematch game against the Tigers, this time in Detroit. As part of a 2020 season double-header, it was just a seven-inning game. Bauer went the route, shutting out the Tigers on two hits, two walks and four hard-hit balls. He struck out seven. [Game analysis, Matt Wilkes]

Bauer threw his slider 16.7% of the time. His slider came in with the second highest spin rate among starting pitchers, giving it severe horizontal and vertical break. Here, Bauer strikes out Jonathan Schoop on a slider way out of the zone.

 

August 7 (at Milwaukee)

Bauer’s third start was on regular rest and in an NL Central matchup against the Brewers in Milwaukee. He gave up a run, three hits, a walk and only three hard-hit balls over six innings. Bauer fanned 12 Brewers. The Reds jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second inning and were ahead 8-1 when Bauer left the game. [Game analysis, Steve Mancuso]

Bauer threw a sharp-breaking curve on 15.7% of his pitches. At times it was classified as a knuckle curve or spiked curve. His spin-rate on that pitch was in the 92nd percentile. Its 11-inch vertical drop was the steepest in the majors. Here, Bauer uses his curve to strike out 2019 MVP Christian Yelich.

 

August 19 (at Kansas City)

After his start in Milwaukee, the Reds held Bauer out 12 days before his next start. Part of that gap was the four days the Reds were on the shelf after Nick Senzel was diagnosed with COVID. In his fourth start, Bauer shut out the Royals over seven innings in the second game of a Wednesday double-header. The Reds won 5-0. Bauer limited Kansas City to one hit, three walks and just four hard-hit balls. He struck out nine. [Game analysis, Kyle Berger]

Bauer’s second most-used pitch in 2020 was a cutter, which he threw 8 mph slower than his four-seam fastball. Of pitchers who threw the cutter at least 130 times, Bauer’s had the steepest vertical drop. That’s an important quality for a cutter to get the ball off the same swing plane as a pitcher’s fastball. Bauer induced called strikes or whiffs on 53% of his cutters in this game, including this called third strike on Ryan O’Hearn.

 

August 24 (at Milwaukee)

Five days later, Bauer pitched in Milwaukee against the Brewers. He went 6.1 innings giving up four runs, two walks and allowed eleven hard-hit balls. He struck out eight. The Brewers won 4-2. [Game analysis, Steve Mancuso]

Bauer wasn’t his best in this game against the Brewers. On this pitch to Justin Smoak, who the Brewers released two weeks later, Bauer grooves a 95.5 mph fastball.

 

August 29 (Chicago Cubs)

Five days later, Bauer faced Darvish at GABP, the first of two such glamour matchups. On this day, the Cubs starter got the best of Bauer, with the Cubs winning 3-0. Bauer went only 5.1 innings in his shortest appearance of 2020. He gave up all three Cubs runs, allowing four hits and two walks. Bauer struck out five. He gave up five hard-hit balls. [Game analysis, David Kelley]

Tonight, Bauer said he’s still working on his changeup. Based on counting of the expert pitch enumerators, he only threw it three times in 2020. This is one of those three. It produced Anthony Rizzo’s first of two homers in this game. To Bauer’s credit, this wasn’t a bad pitch. The Cubs first baseman made an improbable swing on a pitch at the bottom of the strike zone. It was the last time Bauer would throw his changeup in 2020.

 

September 4 (at Pittsburgh)

Six days later, Bauer pitched the second game of a double-header in PNC Park, a game the Reds lost 4-3. Bauer gave up six hits, one earned run (4 runs total) and two walks. He struck out seven and gave up seven hard-hit balls over his 6 innings. [Game analysis, Steve Mancuso]

This was another not-so-great game for Bauer. Yes, he only allowed one earned run. But after an error by Joey Votto, Bauer couldn’t get the final out to prevent the Pirates from scoring three more runs. Here, Pirates terrific rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes, drills a Bauer cutter into the right-center gap.

 

September 9 (at Chicago Cubs)

Bauer vs. Darvish again, this time at Wrigley Field. The Reds beat the Cubs 3-0 while Bauer went 7.2 shutout innings. He didn’t walk a batter and gave up only three hits while striking out 10 Cubs hitters. Bauer gave up seven hard-hit balls. [Game analysis, Steve Mancuso]

Here’s a rising 93-mph four-seamer that strikes out Ian Happ in the Cubs first at bat of the game. Note how Happ swings under the ball. Bauer would go on to strike out Happ two more times that day.

 

September 14 (Pittsburgh)

Bauer made the second start of the 12-game Reds winning surge that propelled the club to the postseason. Bauer pitched 6.1 innings, giving up a single run against the Pirates at GABP. He surrendered four hits, two walks and just four hard-hit balls. Bauer struck out 12. You’ll remember this as the game the Reds walked off on Tyler Stephenson’s dramatic homer. [Game analysis, Steve Mancuso]

One of Bauer’s 12 whiffs comes on this filthy 96-mph fastball he spots on the outside corner against Hayes.

 

September 19 (Chicago White Sox)

The Reds lost Bauer’s next start 5-0 to the White Sox. He gave up only two runs, but the White Sox managed nine hard-hit balls over his seven innings. Bauer struck out five and walked one. This was one of just two Reds losses over their 12-game streak. Despite the loss, they won this series against Chicago 2-1. [Game analysis, Matt Wilkes]

Here, White Sox leadoff hitter Tim Anderson misses this Bauer curveball by a couple feet. Later, Anderson would homer off Bauer on a ball with an exit velocity of 106.9 mph, one of the hardest hit balls Bauer gave up all season.

 

September 23 (Milwaukee)

Trevor Bauer pitched on short rest against the Brewers in his final start of the regular season. It was also the Reds final home game. Bauer gave the Reds eight strong innings, striking out 12 and walking only one. The Brewers managed only four hard-hit balls and one run in the Reds 6-1 win. [Game analysis, Matt Wilkes]

This is Bauer’s final pitch of the 2020 regular season. It’s a 81-mph curveball that bounces in front of home plate (note where the little white baseball graphic appears) and induces a helpless swing by Christian Yelich. It was on Bauer’s pitch #104 of the night. Remember, this was after just three days rest.

Cue the Bauer strut.

 

September 30 (Atlanta, postseason)

Performance in the postseason doesn’t count for the Cy Young voting. But it’s worth remembering Trevor Bauer finished his 2020 season with a sparkling gem in an all-important game against Atlanta. 

David Bell sent Bauer to the mound against the powerful Braves lineup. The Reds starter threw 103 pitches covering 7. 2 innings. He shut out the Braves and held them to two hits and only five hard-hit balls. Bauer walked none and struck out 12. The score was tied 0-0 when he left. The Reds lost 1-0 in 13 innings. Bauer’s 12 strikeouts set a club record for the postseason, besting Homer Bailey’s 10 in 2012. If the offense had managed a single run in the first nine innings, Bauer would have been a conquering hero. [Game analysis, Steve Mancuso]

Conclusion

The Reds acquired Trevor Bauer at the 2019 trade deadline. In effect the front office exchanged 6 years of Taylor Trammell for Bauer’s 2020 season. The trade didn’t payoff in Reds postseason wins, but it did give Reds fans a Cy Young season to watch. As Chad Dotson has recounted, that’s a singular event. If the hitting had shown up against Atlanta, who knows how far the Reds excellent pitching staff, led by Bauer, could have taken the club.

Trevor Bauer declined the Reds offer of a $17.8 million qualifying offer and entered free agency. That was no surprise. Bauer has earned a big payday with the 2020 season we just reviewed. He has said for a while he’ll only one-year contracts, but recently Bauer has indicated he’ll look at any offers. One writer projects Bauer will sign a 5-year, $150 million contract. Given payroll commitments to the team’s other players, it’s not realistic to think the Reds will compete with that.

But whether or not the Reds are able to sign Bauer, his glorious 2020 performance was one for the ages and our memories.

[Featured image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1305578844750065664/photo/1]

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.

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kmartin
kmartin
10 days ago

Great post. You said it best in your last sentence: “But whether or not the Reds are able to sign Bauer, his glorious 2020 performance was one for the ages and our memories.”

I loved watching this guy pitch. My favorite moment was the sixth inning of the September 23 game when the Brewers had first and third with no outs and he strikes out the side. An ace in every sense of the word.

On another note I am pleased to see Kim Ng get a chance as GM.