On paper, expecting some kind of production from Jake Bauers in 2019 shouldn’t be a big problem. He’s been known for his hit tool coming through the minors, and displayed flashes of brilliance in 2018 before the league adjusted to him. The Rays organization raved about him.The big issue with Bauers is how prone to pulling the ball in 2018. To an incredible amount even. At 51.1 percent, his pull rate on batted balls ranked fourth in all of baseball among those with at least 350 plate appearances.
This means he’s all but sacrificing half the field, probably in favor of power. This means shifts, which means less cheap hits. Which means he needs to be able to take walks to keep his on-base rate, and thus his value to the Indians, as high as possible. His plate discipline is paramount. Let’s take a look.
First, it’s important to know Bauers’ sense of his own zone. From Carlos Santana to Yan Gomes, the Indians have seen the entire range of plate discipline on their team in just the last few years. Bauers went out of the zone on a swing 24.7 percent of the time in 2018, below the MLB average 30.9 percent, while his 58.2 percent in-zone swing rate is also below baseball’s 67.3 percent. So he’s patient. That’s good. Is he smart with that patience? Anyone can just stand there. I do it all the time, in a whole ton of different situations.
Bauers does have a good choosiness. Sort of. All the balls he swung at look like this:
So he did go out of the zone, but not to a degree that you see any kind of hole or chase point. Usally lefties have a big problem with those down and away sliders, but it’s not a really standout area for Bauers here. On the other hand, there’s a small problem with where he doesn’t swing:
He let some bad balls go by, sure. But he also has a massive, gaping hole up and in on this zone, meaning he went after pitches there whenever they showed up. He’s a hungry boy. He sees a pitch he thinks he can hit near him, he takes a hack. Normally that’s a bad idea. But Bauers has drilled a few that people have tried to sneak under his hands:
Not to say he shouldn’t lay off those pitches — it’s probably one of the holes in his approach — but that he can turn them around is impressive. Again, not always a good idea to get used to chasing up and in - it leaves you susceptible to the too high fastball. Heck, it was the thing that made Mike Trout more mortal, till he fixed it. But despite a seemingly long swing, Bauers does get some muscle to it. It’s something to watch for, but not break our brains over.
One knock on that last image, when paired with the first pitch chart, he does seem to have a bit of an issue with inside pitches. That again ties back to the issue with his longish swing, and is likely to be a place he gets attacked until he proves he can hit it. That said, going inside isn’t a recipe for certain strikes, and can often depend on the umpire, as this Hardball Times article notes. So it’s something to watch.
His rookie year saw Bauers walking 13.9 percent of the time, and that number hit 14.8 before the league found a weakness. That would be something like 12th best in baseball if he’d have qualified for the batting title. So aside from the graphics, the numbers bear his plate control out. There is a reason the Indians went after him, aside from age and probably being at their wit’s end with Yandy Diaz. Discipline in the minors is one thing, but at least he’s carried it to the majors. So far.
Bauers is probably going to have to wear a bit more responsibility in 2019 than he expected. He might have hoped for it as any competitor would, but going from a team still putting the pieces together in the Rays to one that has championship or bust notions in the Indians means he needs to perform sooner rather than later.
The Indians are down to about three legitimate bats in the lineup right now, so obviously Bauers needs to be his best self, as soon as possible. Getting on base and embedding baseballs in the outfield wall are paramount to that. If he can continue to advance his control of the zone even more than he already has, all that praise heaped on him by Tampa’s brass is plain, and more and more makes this look like a brilliant deal for the Indians.