Eno Sarris has departed from Fangraphs. One of my favorite writers in the industry was a dream interview of mine and I spoke with him twice (one; two). He is an inspiration for how I’ve adapted as a writer in this space, taking a clever approach to analysis… and music. [Jay’s Note: And he really knows his beers. Like, more than we all think. He actually filled the hotel bathtub with ice and microbrews and was the beer sommelier the whole night at a Spring Training party with Grey and other industry peeps. I’d say I smelled his hair when he wasn’t looking, but his hair is OMNIPRESENT. If you’re in a 100-foot radius you can’t help but run into it…]

Prior to any of his chats on Fangraphs, he would a link to a song; good, bad, weird, or confusing, your taste didn’t matter. It was there for you to consume. While I won’t do this religiously as the 2018 season nears, for I question where my musical taste falls among our audience of readers, when opportunity presents itself, I act.

The 2018 Razzball Commenter Leagues are now open! Free to join with prizes! All the exclamation points!

Trevor Bauer likes the metal band Amon Amarth. Eclectic nordic metal from Sweden isn’t something you hear in clubhouses often. As you can imagine, the band has names you can find slapped on SKUs at your local IKEA: Johan Hegg, Olavi Mikkonen, Johan Soderberg, and Ted Lundstrom (add those sideways colon things where appropriate). Bauer’s ears enjoy growling vocals and endless chugging; my respect level for the 6-foot-1 righty has gone through the roof.

Rudy’s auction values place Bauer as an SP3, ranked 31st and directly behind the love of my life, Luis CastilloNFBC leagues since January 1 have Bauer going as the 53rd pitcher and 141st player overall (NFBC 15 team rankings), and when you factor in NFBC choosing not to separate SPs from RPs in their sorting – boo! – there is some agreement on his value.

Grey thinks otherwise. And although he submits it might bite him in the arse, ranking him19th in his top 20 pitchers translates to eighth-round value when looking at Grey’s big board.

I’ll start high level and turn towards the granular aspects of Bauer’s game.

Grey’s projection – 15 W, 10 L, 3.59 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 204 K, 189 IP

Razzball’s projection – 12 W, 9 L, 4.17 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 174 K, 175 IP

Now for the change which Grey mentions in his top 20 starters post, let’s take a look at Bauer’s 20-game rolling FIP plotted with his curveball usage…

(Thanks, Fangraphs!)

A tale of two halves, as with many arms, is an apt term for Bauer’s 2018. You’ll hear often that a full season is more predictive than individual stretches of a player’s year. This holds true, but if you can buy in to what a player changed, how he changed it, and the result, you can gauge the “stickiness” of that change and gamble on extended results.

With Bauer, he contributed to the offspeed pitch revolution that has been overshadowed by its brothers, Launch Angle and Juiced Ball. I immediately thought two things upon the discovery of elevated curveball usage: 1) did the pitch itself change and 2) how did it affect his other pitches.

Nummer Ett (“number one” in Swedish!)

You’re damn right I watched this one minute video on how to count to ten in Swedish!

It’s probably fair to assume any pitch changes when it becomes a component of a performance boost. Bauer’s curveball isn’t too different and innovators in the pitching biomechanics space, Driveline, may have been the reason why.

If you ever watch a start of Bauer’s, or one of most pitchers with a good curveball, you’ll notice the pitch can change depending on the count. The easiest way to think about this is with two buckets: get me over (early in the count) and put away (two strikes). According to Bauer himself, as linked above, he tinkered with the spin on his curveball by moving his index finger so it didn’t interfere with the spin axis of the ball. This allowed for a higher spin-rate curve thrown later in counts and studies have shown higher spin rate on breaking balls can increase the rate of a whiff.

Combing through Brooks Baseball shows us that the vertical movement of the pitch downward increased slightly as the season went on, and Bauer’s vertical release point of the pitch fluctuated as well. The former makes sense. More spin leads to a higher whiff rate, more spin and more whiffs likely means the pitch is breaking more than its former self. The latter, Bauer’s release point, could have to do with his index finger movement, but could just as easily be a feel-based, unconscious adjustment, or simply noise.

Splitting Bauer’s season into halves around August 1 shows his curveball’s refinement (August 1 is when Bauer’s curveball usage began to stabilize above his average usage throughout the whole season). Bauer’s glaring problem had always been neutralizing lefties. Compounding the above factors with location improvement – which we’re about to see – further solidifies not only how the pitch itself changed, but the resulting effects of this change, and his improvement. In the gif below, the small brown dot at the bottom of the zone is Bauer’s curveball location to left-handed hitters, improvement from the larger brown mass that covers nearly the whole plate, aka inconsistent.

Nummer Två 

I am confident this the first time Razzball readers have seen the letter “a” with a dot above it.

I am not confident, however, that I’ll be able to isolate how Bauer’s changing curveball affects his other pitches merely because of the variables in place. High-level, one can say the increase in curveball usage made Bauer use his other pitches less; something had to move down in frequency to compensate for 30 percent use of his hook.

While Bauer began to abandon his sinker as the season went on, another big change for Bauer was using a slider over his cutter. This flip has been detailed well by others, but a sneaky difference with this alteration is the tier of velocity his slider falls into, allowing him to seamlessly change speeds between a 94 mph (fastball), 84 mph (slider), 78 mph (curve), and 87 (change). His cutter’s velocity used to sit 86-87 mph, close to his changeup, and even though the pitch’s movement is inherently different, from a timing perspective it was similar to another pitch of his. Even as I don’t have any hard evidence to back up a wider band of velocity helping Bauer out, further diversification of his portfolio of pitches in this manner feels like a win for the righty.

This slider was used 25 percent of the time when Bauer was ahead against right-handed hitters past August 1, and even though his sinker was widely non-existent, it peers its head when Bauer is ahead in the count. This effectively creates four options for a punchout against right-handed hitters, each of which is an improving or proven pitch. This is one reason why I side with Grey in projecting Bauer’s strikeout percentage to linger over the 9 K/9 mark, even if all else fails.

Conclusion 

Not only did Bauer’s effectiveness versus left-handed hitters rise from the ashes, but his foresight to alter another aspect of his repertoire to further thawart right-handed hitters causes me to consider a world where the duo of changes results in even further strides towards prolonged success.

We now know a few important things about Bauer: he used his improved curveball more, he flipped from a cutter to a slider, and he listens to Amon Amarth.

14 W, 9 L, 3.85 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 185 K, 170 IP, with upside, is my projection for Bauer. 

I’m comfortable taking him as my SP3, right around the 12th round in a rotisserie league. This is the balance between Grey’s optimism and Steamer’s pessimism.

‘Til next time, my friends.

Amon Amarth is from Sweden. I am from Twitter. 

You can follow Lance on Twitter at @LanceBrozdow!

   
  1. Member Berries says:
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    That’s a lot of work to get right between the two projections

    you have to project better than Grey or worse than steamer. Take a stance!

    (good work though, enjoyed reading this)

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Member Berries:
      Thanks.

      I am notoriously neutral, it’s a character flaw!

  2. AL KOHOLIC says:
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    great work thanks

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @AL KOHOLIC:
      Thanks, Al!

  3. JRod

    Jarod (noted Indians homer) says:
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    We also know about his love of drones (albeit he was a little careless with them at a very bad time), he is a #MAGA Trumper, and he still has that quirky warm-up routine. He’s a real Jomsviking!

  4. Old School Brother says:
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    Great write up Lance. Love that curve ball GIF, looks like he’s locating it pretty damn well now.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Old School Brother:
      Thanks!

      Agreed, I love the improvement, even if we can’t expand it out for all of eternity.

  5. sport says:
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    Man I have been really on the fence with this and was leaning towards waiting until his ADP. I really appreciate the time you put into this write up though, and I’m looking to get him in the 10th or 11th now.

    Probably my sneaky SP2 in AL only!!!!!

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @sport:
      Go for it!

      And no problem at all.

  6. Frank says:
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    SKUs? Now there’s an ex-retail man

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Frank:
      Spot on hahaha

      Those plants didn’t sell themselves back in the day!

  7. Burningbridges247 says:
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    Great homage to Eno, and en excellent write up. Well done, Lance.

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Burningbridges247:
      Thanks, he’s the man!

      Already miss him *sad face*

      • knucks says:
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        @Lance: Already read a few of his Athletic write-ups. Enjoyable, but not the same (and also not Free!). Will miss creeping on those FG’s chats.

  8. Malicious Phenoms says:
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    Love Bauer, gonna be an SP2 this year in my book..lol

    Hey wud you trade away Blake Snell and Bradley Zimmer for Lance McCullers in a 12 team H2H points?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @Malicious Phenoms:
      Thanks, MP!

      I think I might actually want the combo here.

      Like McCullers a lot for 2018, but if you’re looking beyond that, Snell/Zimmer side is nice.

      It’s a close one for me without putting ample amounts of thought into it.

  9. J-FOH says:
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    Good stuff again Lance Romance! I fall more skeptical of him holding this up for the length of a season. Rudy and Steamers are the wiser plays here. But let’s not talk about Bauer. This article made me think of Rich Hill and his bajillion different curves he throws. Have you dug into his curve arsenal and would you ever do a write up on it?

    • Lance

      Lance says:
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      @J-FOH:
      J-FOH!

      I think it’s going to be tough for anybody to maintain an adjustment with how quickly the league adjusts as a whole, but I’m encouraged by the dual alteration among other things. I think he’s reinvented himself as a pitcher more than just tinkered with a pitch.

      Should be fun to watch him in 2018.

      I remember watching Hill when he was still kind of a confusing commodity on the A’s, good but the curveball reliance was just bonkers. That’d be an interesting column idea, I’ll put it in the back of my mind.

      Thanks for reading as always.

  10. Dokken

    Dokken says:
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    Great work. I too am optimistic on Bauer this year. More importantly though, Amon Amarth rules!! I plan to get a “Cry of the Blackbirds” inspired tattoo one glorious day.

Comments are closed.