It was unfair at the time, but leading up to the 2011 MLB Draft, Trevor Bauer was hailed as the second coming of Tim Lincecum. It was all there- the rubber arm, unorthodox mechanics, slight frame, big fastball, quirky personality. The comparison now seems star-crossed, as 2011 was the apex of Bauer's prospect value and the last time Big Timmy Jim was an above-average major league starter. After a solid 2012 in the minors (2.42 ERA in 130.1 IP), the D'Backs mysteriously shipped Bauer off to Cleveland for defense-first shortstop Didi Gregorius. The move was met with industry-wide disdain, for Arizona's part, although Bauer did his best to prove his former team prescient, posting an ERA over 4.00, a walk rate over 5, and a K-rate under 8 (he'd never posted a k-rate below 10). In 18 innings this year, however, Bauer's looked like the guy many of us expected to see a few years ago. In 3 starts (one in the majors), Bauer has thrown 18 innings, with 26 strikeouts, 5 walks, and an ERA of exactly 1.00. It's a microscopic sample-size, but Bauer is grabbing folks’ attention by showcasing unprecedented control and an uptick in velocity.
Here's a look at Bauer's goods on April 9 vs the Padres:
Since his pro debut in 2011, Bauer’s Achilles heel has been FB control. Even in the days of #FreeTrevorBauer, his outings were marked by high pitch counts and short outings. Against the Padres, Bauer sat 93-95, reaching back for 96 when he needed it. The San Diego hitters had difficulty squaring up the fastball, giving the impression that the perceived velocity was even higher than the radar gun readings.
Bauer works relentlessly up in the zone, the reason being three-fold: he has a "rising" effect on the pitch-making it difficult to get on top of; fastballs up in the zone tend to get more whiffs; it has a similar trajectory out of the hand as his breaking pitches, making them difficult to discern from one another. While this approach should result in piles of strikeouts, it could also lead to high home run totals. He could be susceptible to early exits on days he doesn't tote his best fastball.
Bauer has multiple breaking pitch looks. The slurve he throws in the mid 80's (84-85). It has sharp late break, and appears to be his next most reliable pitch after the fastball. He's getting tons of whiffs on the pitch, and in this particular outing he caught a few batters looking at backdoor breakers over the heart of the plate. In order to make the slurve a bonafide weapon, Bauer needs to keep it in the lower half of the zone.
Uncle Charlie is X-rated. In the top graphic you can see the jelly-legged umpire is so fooled that he can't bring himself to call the obvious strike. it's encouraging that batters swung at 57% of the curves he threw. While curveballs tend to be better for ground balls than strikeouts, Bauer's is an out pitch because of the unique way he uses his fastball.
Against the Padres, Bauer began to use the change the second and third times through the order, with middling success. It's a work in progress, and he doesn't throw it often. But as you can see, the pitch has good shape and movement. I've yet to see him throw it for a strike near the bottom of the zone.
During the offseason, both Bauer and the Indians were adamant about relaying the message that he'd made important mechanical adjustments and had fully recovered from the groin issues that plagued him throughout the 2013 season.
He's slowed his pace to plate-although it's still well above average- in exchange for a more repeatable, balanced delivery. If the mechanical improvements hold, there's no reason to believe he can't continue to throw strikes. This is not a given however, for Bauer is well known for his obsession with tweaking and re-tweaking even the smallest minutiae of his delivery, leaving him with a floating mechanical profile. With Carlos Carrasco "struggling" at the major league level (7.31 ERA, 3.61 FIP), it may not take much for Bauer to wiggle himself into Cleveland's starting 5, and his strikeout upside makes him an attractive add in all formats.