Trevor Bauer is good. Trevor Bauer is actually really good and I want to shout his name from the top of the highest mountaintops. He is currently leading Indians pitchers in fWAR, even ahead of the robot that is Corey Kluber. The former number 3 overall pick has had his fair share of struggles in the big show. He has yet to finish a full season with a sub 4 ERA, and he has yet to finish with a WHIP below 1.3. I know, I know you are reading these numbers right now and questioning whether Trevor Bauer is indeed really good, or was I just trying to bamboozle you before? No, he is really good I promise.
Over the past year, Bauer has turned the corner in his career, owning a 2.94 ERA (3.02 FIP/ 3.45 SIERA) in 202.1 IP in the last calendar year. That would be the 10th lowest among qualified starters and ahead of one spot fellow Indians teammate Mike Clevinger. Bauer’s 28% K-rate over that same period ranks him 11th and ahead of great starters such as Aaron Nola, Chris Archer, and Blake Snell. So what change has Bauer made to go from a mediocre starter with a 4.55 ERA and a 22% K-rate to the starter we see today? Oh, he just casually reintroduced a nasty slider to his repertoire.
First, let’s set the tone by showing a few GIFs showing how overwhelming his Slider can be. The Gifs are courtesy of our friends over at PitcherList who have the finest pitching GIFs in the business.
The first slider is nasty break inside to strike out the lefty Daniel Palka of the White Sox.
Here is Bauer striking out potential rookie of the year Gleyber Torres on a nasty Slider down and away. A zone he attacks often, but we will get to that later.
As you can see from the image above, Bauer’s recent breakthrough occurs almost precisely at the same moment he reintroduced his slider. His slider as classified by BrooksBaseball “ sweeps across the zone and has exceptional depth.” The Right-Hander has already thrown the pitch 226 times this season more than he threw it in 2016 and 2017 combined and to say it has been outstanding may be an understatement. It has been outright untouchable so far, hitters managing just a -26 wRC+ and a .111 wOBA. They have a slash line of .103/.114/.138, yes, that makes for an outrageous .252 OPS and .034 ISO. According to the Pitch F/X leaderboard that would leave Bauer with the 2nd lowest batting average against and lowest slugging percentage against.
It is no mystery where Trevor Bauer wants to place his slider, he prefers having it break down and away to right-handers (like we identified above with Torres). While breaking it down and in on lefties (as we saw vs Palka). He pounds that spot to each and hitter cannot touch it. That bottom left square is still in the strike zone hitters have an average of .077 but as you go further outside the strike zone it lowers to an average of .000. They have yet to manage a hit on that slider breaking just outside of the zone since he reintroduced the pitch at the end of last July.
So far in 2018, Bauer has changed the way his slider acts. He has lost two ticks of velocity on the pitch, down to an average velocity of 82 MPH. With the drop in velocity, he has managed to gain more movement on the pitch with an xmov of 6.3 and a zmov of 2.4. That is what is accounting for that sweeping motion going away from right-handers and the depth. The movement is much greater than the average slider which is typically around 2.8 xmov, and 1.2 zmov.
Bauer’s slider is a thing of beauty and one of the best sliders in the game of baseball so far this season. Its wSL/C of 3.69 would rank it as the 3rd best in baseball. He pairs his slider with a big 12-6 curve that possesses a whiff rate of 15.4% and you can see why Bauer can maintain a K-rate of 31.1%. If you were one of the lucky ones who were able to jump on Bauer and his 128 ADP you are going to see an extreme profit. I have him personally in my top-15 of fantasy starters and pushing into the top-10 territory. He is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and despite being a “post-hype” guy he deserves to be talked about among the best starters in fantasy baseball.