By his own admission following Monday night’s win against the Texas Rangers, Jake Bauers — like everyone else in life — occasionally needs a kick in the butt. He apparently got one, and he’s ridden it to the best week of his young career.
Before we get into cherry-picking the rosier set of stats, Bauers overall numbers are still not where he probably wants them. He sits at a .236/.314/.403 slash for an 89 wRC+, and he has nine home runs in 261 plate appearances. He’s not far off the 95 wRC+ mark he set last season, but considering the Indians traded Yandy Diaz for him, they are probably expecting more than a slightly below-average bat and spotty defense from Bauers.
Luckily, he’s showing signs of being able to be just that.
It’s the smallest of sample sizes, but Bauers has been on fire over the last series and a half. Starting with his cycle in Detroit on Friday through yesterday’s win over the Rangers, the young hitter is 11-for-22 with two doubles, one triple, and two homers. He’s struck out six times to one walk, but every time he makes contact right now, he’s making it well.
Most notably, his improvements are showing up in his swing.
You can see it in his stiff, robotic swing from April, when his hands bounced around, his hips and hands rotated at exactly the same time, and he just didn’t look that comfortable at the plate. This same swing stuck with him through most of April.
From what I can tell looking through all of his swings on Baseball Savant, it looks like he has been a work in progress throughout the season. In early May, his elbow started sitting at a higher position, though his hips still lagged behind in his swing. As May progressed, so did his hips, culminating in the much improved swing in the right-hand side of the GIF above in June.
As a result, his wOBA and hard hit rate both find themselves climbing closer to his 2018 numbers.
In the post-game interview referenced above, Bauers credits his ability to spread the ball around as one of his biggest reasons for the turnaround. “Pulling the ball by accident,” as he calls it. Which is odd, because he never exactly spread it around when he was in the minors, nor did he in 2018 when he found success with the Rays.
Last season, specifically, he pulled the ball 51.1% of the time, and in the minors he only pulled the ball at any level less than 40% of the time once — in 2015 playing in Double-A. This season, arguably his worst at any level of his career, he has almost an even split between pulling (37.6%), hitting it dead center (32.1%), and going to the opposite field (30.3%).
Maybe because, as Bauers says, he’s never going to be a big homer guy he is just more comfortable facing major-league pitching trying to spray the ball all over, instead of pulling almost everything like he did in the minors. Still, it’s a weird choice to make when he’s never had to change his approach to “beat” the shift before — something the Indians have done a lot this season with limited success. The jury is still out on that plan for the long, but it sure is working right now.
There are definitely still some holes in Bauers’ game, which we’ll get into later this week, but he’s finally showing why he’s getting — and deserving! — an extended look by the Indians. Small sample sizes be damned.