Let’s start with the positives: Jake Bauers is young. Jake Bauers is handsome.
Ok, everything else: Jake Bauers was pretty bad at baseball in 2019.
I don’t say that to be a hater (sorry, Mrs. Bauers), but it’s the bluntest truth I can say about Jake Bauers’s 2019 season. He just plain wasn’t good, and on most teams he wouldn’t have gotten 423 plate appearances while slashing .226/.312/.371 and playing sub-par defense at multiple positions.
But the Indians were desperate, they didn’t bother addressing their outfield woes in earnest, and if we’re being honest, they probably didn’t want to look like fools for dealing away Yandy Diaz. They had every reason to try and make Bauers work this season.
But it just ... didn’t.
A rough start to the season for a Bauers, and a hot start from Bobby Bradley in Triple-A, meant that all eyes were on the 24-year-old from the start, and the heat was constantly on him to perform up to expectations.
The promise of Bauers has always been his patience, sneaky speed, and maybe a bit more pop that what he’s shown so far. None of those showed up for him this season, save for some small spurts where he looked like everything was clicking.
He peaked by hitting for the cycle on July 2, right when it seemed like he might’ve been putting everything together. From June 30 to July 7 — one glorious week — Bauers looked like a star, going 12-for-23 with two walks and a homer. There was little power in his bat, however, as all but two of hits were merely singles. Still, it was better than he had shown to start the year, and it looked like the Indians finally had a competent batter in left field for a brief, wonderful time.
He carried an above-average bat through mid-July, but after going hitless in 16 straight at-bats, the Indians effectively replaced Bauers’ lineup spot with Yasiel Puig at the trade deadline. Bauers was demoted and not seen again in the majors until Aug. 31, when he was recalled to replace the injured Tyler Naquin.
He was given a string of starts in left field upon his return where he promptly went 2-for-13 with seven walks and lost his starting job yet again. Between a series of random starts and occasional pinch-hit opportunities, the young hitter when hitless from Sept. 3 through Sept. 28 before knocking two hits on Sept. 29 while playing clean-up duty for now eliminated Indians.
He also did this, which I firmly believe we did not appreciate enough when it happened. It belongs in the pantheon of bad-good outfield throws. Right up there with Ryan Raburn spiking a ball in left field.
So where do we go from here? There’s a future for Bauers in Cleveland, of course. He’s only 24 and dirt cheap — two very important factors for the way the Indians are currently constructed and run. But his advanced numbers were abysmal in 2019; almost everything about his batting profile suggestions someone who isn’t going to get a whole lot better. His average exit velocity, hard-hit rate, and expected slugging percentage were all in the bottom fourth of the league, and his expected batting average was among the worst in baseball.
If we dig a little deeper into the swing profile (that Alex Hooper utilized to perfect last week in evaluating Carlos Santana), we see some anecdotal truths about Bauers panning out in the numbers. For one, he’s far too cautious on balls in the “shadow” of the plate. In other words, on balls that are typically a 50/50 split between being a ball or strike, he’s not nearly aggressive enough on them. I can remember several times in the season it seemed like he watched one too many third strikes go by on close balls (again, sorry Mrs. Bauers), and it shows in his -17 run value on balls in the shadow of the plate.
Extrapolating it a bit further, among batters who saw at least 1,000 pitches in 2019 (318 total), Bauers had the 13th highest percent of called third strikes (2.3%, 41 total pitches). With two strikes on the board, Bauers saw a total of 211 balls thrown in the shadow of the strike zone. He watched 26 of those go by for a strike, most often on a fastball down and away.
Unless he gets traded in a package deal, Bauers is going to be around the organization for at least another season with his remaining option year. If he can put it all together and direct that cannon of an arm to home plate, the Indians come away from the Yandy Díaz trade with a steal in him and Santana. Otherwise, at least half the deal will always be worth it.