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Trevor Bauer might be changing baseball

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Recreating the best pitches in the game, cracking ancient codes, the Indians righty is doing something revolutionary.

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Bauer debuted his new slider on Monday, to resounding success — in five innings’ work he fanned eight Rangers. He was “encouraged” by how it worked with his curve, since his entire goal was to gain another distinctive plane to work on. Lots of pitchers work on a new thing every winter, whether endurance or velocity, a new pitch, refining one they already have in the arsenal, whatever. You always have to stay ahead of the pitchers. But Trevor Bauer is building himself into some kind of Frankenstein of pitching dominance.

During that wide-ranging interview with MLB.com and The Athletic, Bauer talked about his goal being literally stealing Corey Kluber’s breaking pitch. Seeing as it’s one of the best pitches in baseball, you understand the rationale. But he also talked about taking Stephen Strasburg’s change-up, another of the best swing-and-miss pitches in baseball. Which is, quite frankly, an insane plan when you just say it. He’s simply collecting all the best pitches in baseball (his curve is filthy in its own right, and his now shelved two seam was based on Kluber’s as well) and working to master them by copying them precisely. This is something out of a comic book. This is what people do in video games.

That is the power of the engineering mind on pitching though. At least, that’s a part of it. Bauer simply wants to do everything to the absolute maximum, to answer the question “why not?” Why can’t he throw those pitches? But more than his drive and focus, he’s tapped the technology we now have at hand to do it. That camera setup he uses to see what the pitch is doing, made by edgertronic, has unlocked a world previously unavailable to baseball.

Think about this: The most devastating single pitch of the last 25 years is Mariano Rivera’s cutter. It carried him to the title of Greatest Closer Ever, a clutch of World Series titles and an eventual spot in Cooperstown. Everyone tried to copy it, and anyone who asked Mo was shown the grip and how he threw it. But being told how it’s done isn’t always enough. Considering how he kind of stumbled on it anyway, Rivera threw it by feel. It’s hard to communicate just how your fingers really come off the ball.

Back then, and even as recently as a couple years ago, we simply didn’t have the technology to truly capture what causes the precise movement of the ball — the minute twitches from the pitcher, which fingers do what, precise arm angles — that lead to a great, or terrible, pitch. Bauer said it himself in an interview about his work with Driveline Baseball, pitch design is a wholly untrodden path. Pitchers still just learn pitches the old fashioned way, and if they lose the feel they have a bad outing, and they can’t explain it. But this is completely different. This is breaking it down to the smallest detail and repeating every bit.

What Bauer is doing, shooting hyper slo-mo video and cracking the code of Kluber’s slurve or Strasburg’s change, it completely changes pitching. On Twitter the other day, Driveline’s owner Kyle Boddy noted that they proved velocity can be developed. If Bauer is successful here, we may have the first obvious inkling that movement can be quantitatively trained for as well. We know about spin rate and things of that nature now, but this is taking it to the next level. And it’s not like this hasn’t leaked into baseball already. Houston is on the bleeding edge. They have a host of Edgertronic cameras catching everything, and reportedly helped Justin Verlander fix his slider after it had lost its depth in recent years. They knew something he didn’t because he simply hadn’t seen it.

From here, who knows? Why can’t Cody Anderson learn Strasburg’s change-up? Why can’t Ryan Merritt learn, well, everything Kyle Hendricks throws? Why not anything? It can’t just be only Trevor Bauer that wants to throw only the best pitches. Pitchers have been trading tactics and tools in effort to get ahead of hitters since baseball stopped forcing them to announce what they were throwing. If every pitcher has the tools at hand to be their perfect selves, what more can hitters do?

Having a player that treats himself as a guinea pig on the team you watch, that clues the fans in to things we’d otherwise ignore, it’s a total pleasure. Whether it works of course, that will need to wait for the season to start. But Bauer succeeding in assimilating the best pitches in the game will quite simply change the face of baseball. Not bad for a winters’ work.