We all thought Tim Lincecum was as weird as it could get. His height, flowing locks and “Wow, that shouldn’t work” delivery mystified all of us, and he earned the nickname “Freak”.
But just as Lincecum’s career was being sent over AT&T Park’s right field wall and into the Bay, a new enigma rolled into town: Trevor Bauer.
Bauer is a millennial in a baby-boomer sport. He taught himself how to better control his breaking pitches by using mathematical equations to construct a box to throw through that represented the batter’s eye. Most baseball players are afraid of math outside of mainstream counting statistics. Tell me that Madison Bumgarner or John Lackey wouldn’t puke if you talked to them about the quadratic equation or wOBA.
But like Kevin Durant shooting in an empty arena full of media members, we don’t see Bauer working on his craft. What we do get to see is something that has worried first the Diamondbacks and now the Indians: his long toss program.
Before every start, you can watch Bauer long toss from such a distance that his throwing partner needs a cutoff man. Watching him throw from almost foul pole to foul pole is just as mystifying as Aroldis Chapman’s 105 mph fastballs. But like anything in baseball, being weird has been a huge knock against Bauer throughout his career. Just like with Lincecum, it was declared early on that it would never work, that he would break down or that the theory wouldn’t translate to the big leagues.
To be fair to his detractors, Bauer has had issues staying consistent. This year was his best season, and the numbers don’t exactly jump out at you: a 4.26 ERA and 3.99 FIP, 160 strikeouts to 70 walks and a 1.31 WHIP. But one number does point to a bright future: 25, Bauer’s age.
It is clear that Bauer has been figuring it out. After starting the season in the bullpen, his numbers improved greatly this year. He showed flashes of the skill that justified his selection as the third overall pick in 2011, particularly in his first two months as a full-time starter. In the months of May and June, he sported a 2.76 ERA, spun 66 strikeouts and held opponents to a .212 batting average. He pitched the best game of his career on June 22, a complete game against the Rays where he struck out 10 while walking just one and giving up three hits en route to a 6-1 victory.
While he didn’t start the year as one of the starting five, injuries and his early-season strength forced him into the postseason rotation for the Indians, where he hasn’t given up more than three runs despite an 0-2 record. In 13 innings, he has 16 strikeouts, good for an 11.07 SO/9.
What’s fitting, however, is the reason that Bauer has become a household name. He was the victim of the most millennial injury since Joel Zumaya hurt his elbow playing Guitar Hero: tearing up his finger while fixing his drone, and then trying to pitch with stitches.
Bauer is the physical embodiment of sabermetrics. Watch him pitch in slow motion on YouTube and you’ll struggle to not be reminded of Michael Jordan’s stretching arm in the end of Space Jam. For those of us hoping for a revolution, Bauer embodies the same kind of whimsy.
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