Shakespeare once said, “But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.”
Enter stage right, one Trevor Bauer. Bauer is a tinkerer always looking to improve. You have to admire someone so obsessed with their craft that the process is never over in the pursuit of perfection. After a successful run you’d expect a repeat performance, that he had found the winning formula; not so. After putting up stellar numbers in 2018 to swoon the hardest of souls, Bauer followed that performance with a painful journey of frustration in 2019 that crescendoed with the famous launching of the game ball over the outfield wall at Kauffman Stadium. Soon after Cleveland traded him to Cincinnati where he continued to labor through the remainder of the season. Now in 2020, he’s tinkered again, and chasing the white whale once more.
Because if how knowledgeable he is about pitching and the desire to improve, he’s struggled to find consistency across his career, filled with many ups and downs. He has a career ERA of 3.67 but only registering a season under 4 once, that being his dominant 2018. There are times he looks completely unhittable and others like during last year he’d get hit really had and was unable to command the zone well. So, what’s working for him this year you say; let’s dive in.
Bauer has been so dominant thus far this year, even besting his previous career marks set in 2018. Yes, it’s a small sample, yet he has been so strong. His K-rate is as high as its ever been and inversely his BB-rate as low as ever. So what is going on with him, is he doing something different? Is there a secret sauce—lets first make a stop at his pitch usage.
Hmmmm. Do you see that? Bolded for your convenience, you’ll see his fastball usage is up above 50%, up over 10% to account for half along with another nearly 19% usage with the cutter. He’s using the fastball much more than before to set up his other pitches more effectively. Before, last year his fastball was merely average and was hammered often, but something is different now that has given him the confidence to pound the zone with 4-seamers and cutters. Let’s look at the distribution charts.
Take a look at these two statcast pitch distributions; he is mixing speeds more effectively this year compared to last year. Not only that but so far looks like he’s adjusted the velocity of his pitches so they are more spread out across his offerings. Especially between his secondary pitches and specifically the curve and slider. The dotted line indicating all pitches totaled together shows a more balanced line across the lower end. This means not only is he changing movement and location but the velocities are more spread across the spectrum; therein, making it harder for hitters to time their swing.
His fastball was arguably his worst pitch last year, so where is the confidence coming from to play off of it as the foundation for his strikeouts? His fastball in 2019 was getting hammered with a .273 AVG, .578 SLG and now he’s holding opponents to .050 AVG, .125 SLG (only 2 hits) in these first 4 starts. Something is different. And then when I was looking at film, it hit me.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2020
Watch the fastball on these. Though the velocity on his heater is down a tick; it seems to be moreso on a line and batters seem to be having an issue catching up to it. Its the spin! Bauer has increased the spin-rate on his fastball which adds some deception as well as reduces the drag. This gives the fastball more perceived rise and his cutter more dive, shown HERE, aided by a appears to be higher release point akin to where it was in 2018, shown HERE.
|FB rpm||SI rpm||CT rpm||CU rpm||SL rpm||CH rpm|
Not only his fastball, but Bauer has increased the RPMs on all his pitches except maybe the change. Although his velocity is slightly down a tick, the spin on all his pitchers is up, save the change. And even that could be a stretch as he’s only thrown 2 change-ups.
So what does this all mean? Spin-rate has become his quest for the golden fleece. This season Trevor Bauer is spinning his pitches like a top and despite the small tick down in velo, his pitches are actually performing better than they ever have. This has made them harder to identity thus gaining the jump on batters as though he were throwing much harder allowing him to manipulate his pitch mix at will with everything working off the fastball.
Since he can rely on his fastballs more, including the gyro-cutter (with nearly 3000 rpm) he’s able to command the strike zone better and get batters to chase the slider more off the table, as you can see HERE, including more chase and misses you can see HERE. A great fastball makes everything else better. If Trevor can keep up this new spin-rate and continue to diversify the speeds of his pitches we could be seeing the resurgence of the ace that we saw in 2018 (in a contract year no less) that would easily make him a top 5-10 SP the rest of the way. Spinning is winning.