Behind the Box Score: Breaking down Bauer

Using a starting pitcher twice in a four-day period is a rare occurrence, even if a rain delay confined the former of the two appearances to 30 pitches.

Not for Trevor Bauer.

The 26-year-old right-hander threw 1.2 innings of scoreless baseball on Sunday vs. Kansas City before surrendering four runs on five hits and five walks on Wednesday vs. Colorado.

Bauer’s inability to command the strike zone is concerning, but he did fall victim to base hits with 11% (double), 7% (single) and 3% (double) hit probabilities (red bars below), one of which came around to score.

Okay, so maybe the high altitude and thin air of Coors Field buried Bauer on this sample of three batted balls.

To further this point, Bauer entered play with a .347 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and 20.4% home run to fly ball rate, both career-high marks that are incredibly difficult to sustain over the course of a 162-game season.

“I know the results will match my stuff at some point,” Bauer said after his start on May 14 vs. Minnesota. “I can’t keep having the home run to fly ball rate. It’s just absurdly high right now and that’s how most of my runs are being scored. My BABIP is extremely high as well. Those aren’t sustainable for an entire year.”

The five walks were a problem on Wednesday, especially considering Bauer’s inability to throw inside to right-handed hitters or away to left-handed hitters (see the blank left side of the chart below)…

“He didn’t make an adjustment because there was traffic,” said manager Terry Francona. “When you look at the numbers and all his walks, he wasn’t all over the place.”

In breaking down the above data, it is evident that Bauer is taking a conservative approach on the mound by picking at one corner of the strike zone and shying away from particular locations on the opposite side. When opposing hitters are getting hits at an unprecedented rate against the UCLA product, a recipe for disaster arises.

“He’s got to be able to make an adjustment because if he can throw the ball – and he was following the mitt all day – but in any ballpark, especially here, all that traffic, you’re going to pay for it sooner or later,” Francona said.

The positive takeaway from the outing?

Velocity.

Bauer burned the mitt of catcher Roberto Perez all afternoon long as he topped out at 98.5-mph and averaged a season-high 94.9-mph on his four-seam fastball. Few starting pitchers can say they have lit up the radar gun in this manner…

While Bauer came in averaging 93.7-mph on his primary offering in 2017 and 93.3-mph throughout his six-year major league tenure, his uptick in speed on two days of rest is an encouraging sight. Between command, velocity and limiting traffic on the base paths, the fourth starter on the staff is going to have to put everything together if he wants to be successful.

If Bauer can nearly throw 100-mph, strike out 11.2 hitters per nine innings in 2017 and limit the opposition to a 31.5% hard contact rate throughout his career, then it just seems like a matter of time before he completes the puzzle and unlocks his potential as a former third overall pick, a pitcher that was once touted as a top of the rotation arm.

“I thought his stuff looked so good,” said Francona. “He followed the glove, he just kept missing and it wasn’t by much. I feel like he commanded the ball so well.”

Bauer seems to agree, too.

“At some point it’s going to turn around,” Bauer said. “I’m going to start getting the benefit of the doubt. Right now, though, those things are definitely against me.” 

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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