The story of top 2020 free agent Trevor Bauer is without a doubt a thriller, from his unique on-the-field preparation to Momentum, his off-the-field, and “athlete-driven media company”, it is unlike any story ever told, or is it? Today I am here to tell you that although Trevor Bauer’s polarizing impact off the field is without a doubt unique to solely him, his path on-the-field is following the footsteps of a future Hall of Fame starting pitcher.
The Story So Far
These parallel stories start in the MLB Draft. Trevor Bauer, a Spikes-Award Winner from UCLA, was drafted in the 1st Rd by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011. He made his MLB debut for Arizona after just a year in the minors in late June 2012. Within 18 months, Trevor Bauer was on the move from Arizona to Cleveland, a deal many speculated stemmed from a difference in preparation and development philosophy between Bauer and his drafting organization. Once being traded, Trevor continued to develop and discover himself in the CLE rotation. In his first season after the trade, he appeared in only 4 games for CLE while mainly pitching in AAA. The script was rewritten between 2014-2017 where he combined for 115GS and threw 695.1 innings behind Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and fellow stablemates Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. The results over this period were mixed, with Bauer never posting an ERA below 4.
Upon further examination 2017 looks different from the prior three pedestrian seasons. A drastic spike in K/9 coincides with a pitch mix change, that leads to an increase in curves thrown. This willingness to change up his pitches is something Trevor embraces going into 2018 en route to receiving Cy Young Votes and posting not only his first sub 4 ERA but his first sub 3 ERA! This promising 2018 season saw Bauer enter the limelight as a breakout candidate for analysts everywhere with Jon Denzler of Rotoballer going as far to say we “should expect another Cy Young caliber campaign.”
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This was not to be, as Bauer’s 2019 season was fitting of a 19th century novel as it turned into a tumultuous Jekyll and Hyde affair before ending as a Tale of Two Cities. The season started great with Bauer winning 4 of his first 7 games with a sub 3 ERA which led many to believe his 2018 breakout was real and that the best was still to come. What followed was an up and down rollercoaster that ended with a really long toss(more on that later) and a trade to CIN at the deadline. His arrival at Great American Ballpark was something that for Trevor Bauer was in fact, not great. The numbers speak for themselves when comparing his pre-trade and post-trade numbers. Bauer struggled immensely seeing his ERA rise almost 3 whole runs even with improved K/9 and BB/9.
Fast forward to the shortened ’20 season and to put it mildly, Trevor Bauer went off, finishing 2nd in ERA, and 3rd in K/9 and collecting 27 of 30 1st place Cy Young votes as he broke Mets ace Jacob deGrom’s Cy Young winning streak at two. There are some reasons to possibly doubt Bauer’s 2020 season from the short sample size of only 11 starts, to that of those 11 starts, 7 of them came against offenses in the bottom 5 of wRC+ (MIL 3x, DET 2x, PIT 2x). The results though were that of a pitcher deserving of the Cy Young and his season ended on a high note as he blanked the Atlanta Braves in Gm1 of the NLWC throwing 7.2IP while striking out 12 and allowing only 2 hits.
Two Stories Collide
Just a short summary of Bauer’s career so far, but let’s track it next to that of our mystery Hall of Famer and see how many boxes we check.
-Drafted by ARZ out of college – CHECK
-Traded within 2 years of debut – CHECK
-Traded to AL Central – CHECK
-Pitches behind a Cy Young Winner – CHECK
-WINS Cy Young in contract year – CHECK
You might have guessed it by now, but I am talking about 3-time Cy Young Winner and 7-time All-Star, Max Scherzer! Maybe it is just a huge coincidence but let’s look closer at the numbers.
Okay, a little freaky right? Both have shown since becoming full time starters an ability to eat innings and go deep into games which is often difficult for young starters but not these two aces. Max Scherzer was slightly better in his first few seasons compared to Bauer which nets him the lead in most categories, but as I learned from the late Billy Mays (no relation to Willie Mays upon further research)…
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I highlight these three seasons before free agency on purpose. We have seen over the last few off-seasons that pitchers can drastically increase their value as a free agent by having very good seasons going into free agency, Patrick Corbin in 2018 and Zack Wheeler in 2019 come to mind. Corbin who through his first four seasons started 30+ games only once and had one season with an ERA over 5 was able to parlay a good 2017 (4.03ERA 3.0WAR) and a great 2018(3.19ERA 5.9WAR) into a 6yr/$140M deal. Zack Wheeler on the other hand battled an arduous recovery from Tommy John surgery riddled with setbacks but in his last two seasons before free agency posted consecutive 4+WAR seasons that rewarded him with a 5yr/$118M deal. Now that we’ve discussed why these seasons leading up to free agency are important lets get back to our protagonists. The GS and IP discrepancy here is due in large part to the shortened 2020 season but once again we see strikingly similar numbers across the board including ONCE AGAIN an OPS against within .005. We also see an upward trend from BOTH pitchers as they inched close to free agency. These improvements culminated in Cy Young awards for each before hitting the open market the following winter.
Story Not Yet Told
As Scherzer’s career has unfolded since signing with the Washington Nationals we’ve seen him become a world champion, win a couple more Cy Young awards and throw TWO no-hitters. We have seen him slowly brick-by-brick and strikeout-by-strikeout pave his way to Cooperstown. We have not yet seen this with Trevor Bauer but could we? Both pitchers are massive competitors on the mound with 80-grade intensity. Any skill gap between the two is made smaller with their amount of determination and willpower.
If you do not believe me just yet, then ask this poor baseball that had the misfortune of being in Trevor Bauer’s hand when his skipper Terry Francona pulled him in his last start with the Indians in 2019.
Okay… Maybe too intense, but you get the point.
These two stories read a lot of the same but while Max’s story reaches its conclusion we have yet to reach the climax of Bauer’s. Will the Mets run the gauntlet and sign the best SP available? Will he go back to Kyle Boddy and DrivelineHQ in CIN? Or will he chase the money to LAA? We do know, that whoever signs him is likely to narrate the rest of Bauer’s story and perhaps, the best of it.
All stats are from baseballreference.com, fangraphs.com, or stathead.com unless otherwise noted.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images