It hasn’t been quite the season anyone hoped for with Jake Bauers.
Nobody really tied the offensive hopes of the Tribe to the young outfielder, but there was some kind of rash expectation that he’d be at least some kind of positive influence on the run scoring. A 110-ish wRC+ was something that didn’t seem overly outlandish, not for a highly regarded young bat with lots of room to grow. But instead, he’s been something short of terrible, one more bad blip in a string of disappointing hitting for Cleveland.
What I can’t figure out is, what’s his plan?
Obviously, some adjustments have been made. Matt Lyons noted a change in Bauers’ swing the last few weeks, which led to a bit of a boost in his output for a brief time before he tweaked his ankle and has been in and out of the lineup. But by and large Bauers is not the same hitter he was in 2018.
As Matt noted, he was much more pull-happy in Tampa, marking a 51% rate for the season. Some did complain that he’d gotten a bit too pull-happy, and that number did jump to 57.4% in September with the Rays, coinciding with his cratering numbers. This year he was much more apt to attack the whole field. But those numbers have started to creep back the other way.
Bauers 2019 batted ball splits by month
|Mar/Apr||16.7 %||43.9 %||39.4 %||32.8 %||28.4 %||11.1%||21.2%|
|May||20.6 %||44.4 %||34.9 %||39.7 %||33.3 %||10.4%||28.3%|
|Jun||21.6 %||39.2 %||39.2 %||45.3 %||34.0 %||4.9%||30.5%|
|1st Half||19.4 %||42.8 %||37.8 %||38.8 %||31.7 %||9.1%||26.5%|
Though the broadcast team has mentioned how this is a good thing for players like Santana, this development for Bauers is potentially good news.
It’s been written about here, at Everybody Hates Cleveland, on Cleveland.com, that the Indians were screwing themselves with this odd insistence to beat the shift. I’m all for novel ideas and trying to be the first to make a big, seismic change, and I’d love for the Indians to start developing all-fields hitting monsters that can’t be shifted upon.
But the key there is develop. Plugging that mentality onto a bunch of vets like José Ramírez or even in young, mostly polished guys in Bauers — not to mention adjusting the swings — is not a path to success. That’s what mandates in the minor leagues are for, that’s what better drafting and scouting and hiring hitting coaches for Akron and Lynchburg and Lake County are for. This shouldn’t be happening in Cleveland. It’s not some kind of ad-hoc thing you can just do. Changing a player’s offensive approach is a journey, not a suggestion.
Letting Bauers be himself again could be the greatest coup of Ty Van Burkleo’s career. There’s nothing wrong with being a pull hitter. David Ortiz is one of the most pull-y of pull hitters ever, and posted a 1.021 OPS in his final season. And he couldn’t even run. Bauers has that going for himself, at least. The rising strikeout rate and the sinking walk rate isn’t ideal and will hopefully stabilize to something more comfortable, but getting hits and doing damage are what he’s there for.
Questions still must be raised over that hard-hit rate. Bauers hasn’t crested 35% in a month after sitting above 38% through August. Maybe that’s just the league figuring him out, and his having to adjust to not having as good of pitches to hit. Interestingly, he’s elevated his contact rate from 7.28% last year to 80 this season, and in general is swinging more, 42.2% of the time compared to 40.2% last year. Which tells a story of trying to make more contact, but seeing as he’s not pulling the ball, he’s hitting it hard less — his Barrel rate has fallen a point to 6% and he’s topping 95 mph just 31.1% of the time, 31.3 last year — and he’s actually striking out more, this whole venture into the opposite field may have been a fool’s errand, and this reversion may be for the best.
Sometimes who you are is your best self, even if it can be flawed and ugly. Being true to himself is really what matters for Bauers, whatever that looks like.