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Trevor Bauer does suck right now, by his standards

A couple bad outings won’t define the season for Trevor Bauer

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Trevor Bauer sucks right now. He said it, not me.

When Trevor says it, I tend to both believe him, and look into what he’s talking about.

While his traditional numbers do not scream it – 3.42 ERA, 1.16 WHIP – his peripheral numbers do. Trevor’s 91.4 mph average exit velocity is in just the 9th percentile in baseball currently. That, along with his .438 xSLG, .341 xwOBA, .433 xwOBACON, 41.1% hard-hit rate, and 11.2% walk rate would all be his worsts.

Not the start you would expect, especially if you picked the guy as the American League Cy Young winner in the pre-season. Most of us at LGT did. I would venture to say that most of us still would.

Bauer got smacked around again on Monday, this time by the lowly White Sox, but his tune changed following the beating. He was happy that he was over the plate more often, apparently more worried about that high-end walk rate than the contact numbers.

“Sometimes you have to take a step backward to take two steps forward. Tonight was definitely a step backward results-wise, obviously,” he told reporters, via Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal. “But I was ahead of a lot more hitters, I had a lot more two-strike counts. Threw a lot more first-pitch strikes. Had a lot less three-ball counts. Lot less walks and free base runners.”

Yet the White Sox jumped all over Bauer, and he admitted that, too.

Damage done against Bauer by the White Sox was largely right over the plate.
Baseball Savant

It was not as if any struggles that Bauer had early in his career were strictly due to walks. He did get tagged early in his career. They have never been in the 40% range like they are now, but the righty still sported a hard-hit rate in the upper 30s in 2016 and 2017.

What changed most in 2018 was that Bauer was fooling people. His chase rate against jumped to 31.4% last year, up from the mid-20s in the two years prior. In 2019, Bauer’s swinging-strike rate (12.2%) is holding in line so far with his 2018 mark of 13.3%, but that may be more of a product of the league’s approach to hitting, as his chase rate is back at 27.6%.

Hitters against Trevor Bauer have fared well with their pitch selection, not often biting when his slider dives low and away.
Brook’s Baseball

When Bauer added his slider a year ago, it seemed to be the leader in the clubhouse to change his fortunes for the better. Paired with his extensive research of pitch sequencing, among everything else, he executed his approach to perfection.

So far in 2019, it has been the execution of that pitch that seems to be an issue.

Hitters could not touch the slider last season, to the tune of a .178 xSLG and .141 xwOBA through 66 batted ball events. They’ve posted a .492 xSLG and .319 wxOBA through 16 BBE in 2019.

SSS Alert, but hitters aren’t missing.
Baseball Savant

Though it sits at just 80.6 mph on average, Bauer’s slider is mostly sharper, with an incrementally higher spin rate, as well as more horizontal and vertical break. He just has not located it consistently, and the slider has largely contributed to an alarming (but unsustainable) 11.3% barrel rate overall.

Too many of Bauer’s sliders are populating in the middle of the zone.
Baseball Savant

Easy to see where his Statcast Era-high 8.7% meatball rate (per Baseball Savant) is largely coming from. It’s also no surprise that hitters are swinging at those meatballs at a Bauer-high 77.9% clip. Of the eight hits allowed on the slider, five have been extra-base hits.

A 40% line drive rate, a 40% fly ball rate, a .294 ISO. You get the picture.

It has not just been the slider that has been an issue. Bauer’s fastball has been knocked around at 93.1 mph on average, damage against the cutter is also up.

But Bauer has kept his head above water with his fastballs getting tagged a bit in the past, but he had not been elite without that slider getting him there.

Currently, FanGraphs’ weighted pitch values have Bauer’s slider at -3.1. It rated 11.2 in his dominant season a year ago, and previous iterations had not rated negatively since 2014. In comparison, his four-seamer had been negative every year until 2018, as has his cutter. All of Bauer’s pitches rated positively last season.

(For clarity, Bauer has said in the past that his slider was occasionally picked up as a cutter by Trackman technology, and vice versa.)

It is reasonable to believe that the slider was the key to Bauer’s giant step forward a year ago, and it’s perfectly reasonable to think that it is holding him back now. Given the point of the season, it is fair to assume that it is simply a matter of executing pitches.

His step back was to actually get the ball around the plate, avoiding freebies. If that continues to mean missing the edges of the plate so often, rather catching the middle, he is in trouble. If Bauer is able to harness that slider again, the rest should conceivably fall in place around it.

Trevor Bauer does suck right now, but mostly by his standards.