It was the summer of 1998 in Santa Clarita, California when Trevor Bauer threw his first pitch. A first-year player in what was largely a second-year team, his team’s starting pitcher had worked himself into a base-loaded, zero-out situation and the 7-year-old kid from North Hollywood was called upon to get out of the jam.
He remembers standing on the mound prior to warm-ups thinking to himself, “So, I have to throw this thing over there, huh?” He doesn’t recall if that first pitch was a strike. He doesn’t recall if a run or two had crossed the plate. But he knows that he managed to work his way out of the inning and would live to throw again.
Fourteen years later, Bauer finds himself in a cooler climate — having played in southern California, UCLA, and the ranks of the Arizona Diamondbacks — with similar pressure. Sure, the base paths are no longer cluttered with 7-year olds, but he has gone from one of the top prospects the game has to offer to being traded by the team which drafted him just two years earlier, given up for a shortstop who is predominantly known for slap-hit singles and his defensive prowess. But Bauer, clad in the colors of his new team, perched in front of the Cleveland Indians’ logo, knows that the trade — this fresh start — will allow him to operate in an environment that is more accepting of his mannerisms.
Playing in a game that has, historically, not been kind to change, Bauer is a bit of a different breed, marching to the proverbial drum of his possession. He has a well-documented warm-up ritual that can often begin as early as an hour and 20 minutes prior to a start. He isolates himself within a barrage of stretching exercises divergent of his peers. He often tops it off with a game of catch — or “long toss” — that can typically extend up to 400 feet and involving multiple cut-off men who help return the ball back to that day’s pitcher. Encapsulating it all for those who can’t quite wrap their head the entire ensemble, the player who Bauer looked up to as a growing teen? The poster boy for outlandish and quirky behavior within the confines of Major League Baseball, Barry Zito.
But these tactics, as instilled upon him by Alan Yaeger, the famed trainer who focuses on the body as well as the mind, are not all that new. Other starting pitchers who studied under the Mind and Body ways of Yaeger include Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and Zito, three-time All-Star Cole Hamels and former teammate — and fellow top prospect — Tyler Skaggs. The numbers these rituals have produced are well documented. The struggles incurred once Bauer made it to the big-league level, however, allowed the lazy to hone in on the low-hanging fruit; Bauer does things differently, thus it is his eccentric behavior that is to blame for the increased walk rate and inflated earned run average1.
A quiet kid by all measures2, Bauer inherently comes off as arrogant and uncoachable. He’s even been called a head case. Truth is, what is being mistaken for introverted aloofness and social condescension is merely a result of Bauer being something that most individuals in his position are not: He’s just shy.
Bauer is not eccentric for the sake of being different; this isn’t some notion where an entitled athlete is out to prove his point. Quite the contrary, actually. He’s different because of the mental aspects that have allowed him to dig deeper in to the game. Trevor has always been fascinated by machines and mechanical models. He loves physics and calculus and polymers and the why and how as opposed to the what. The son of Warren Bauer, a chemical engineer, Trevor is wired just as much philosophically as he is athletically3. In high school, when Bauer was the best baseball player in his conference — a high-velocity pitcher well on his way to big things and bright lights — he didn’t talk much. While he would find out years later (having run into a former classmate during his senior year) that he had a reputation for “being stuck up,” the underlying currents were that Bauer spent a good portion of his high school career in search of a friend.
“I wanted a friend,” says Bauer. “I didn’t know how to go up and talk to people. I just wasn’t comfortable. But I didn’t know that was my reputation until my last year in college . It wasn’t intentional — I am easy to get along with.”
This reputation would unfortunately follow Bauer to Arizona where he struggled marrying his way with that of the team. Attempting to act like a rookie, Bauer — once again — did not say much and essentially kept to himself, not speaking unless spoken to. Then, in his first start, before his first pitch, he shook off the call from long-time Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero. The subsequent struggles would merely serve to amplify the scrutiny.
But underneath the kid who wore his baseball pants to high school and appears uninterested while sitting in his Indians-addled sweatsuit, is a 21-year old who is constantly analyzing. He has set up his own film studio which monitors his progression — and regression — from a mechanics standpoint. As Tim Keown wrote in a feature for ESPN The Magazine this past summer, “It’s not enough for Bauer to execute a pitch. He has to understand it, dissect it, improve upon it. He has to turn it sideways tilt his head and examine it from all angles.”
He has to know the why.
These mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, while they may not have meshed in the desert of Arizona, they are actually what has attracted the Indians to Bauer for several years. Tribe general manager Chris Antonetti spent two-and-a-half hours with the pitcher prior to the 2011 MLB Draft. There, they would speak largely about the game of baseball. Earlier this winter, Antonetti went down to the Texas Baseball Ranch to get to know the person, to get to talk about things outside of the game, to see what “makes him tick.”
Bauer throws eight different pitches — a four-seam fastball, two variations of a change-up, two curve balls, two sliders, and a pitch he describes as a “reverse slider” that seems to be a twisted test tube creation that melds a screwball together with a cut fastball. How he came up with the latter is unknown, but it is safe to assume that similar thought went into how he comes up with the requisite 400 feet needed for his pre-game longtoss.
“If it’s 330 feet down the lines, that’s about 469 feet between the [foul] poles,” Bauer casually quips as if geometry is common knowledge.
For all of the struggles Bauer has had growing up with the inability to socialize with his peers, he is undoubtedly doing his best to talk to fans and those who want to pick his brain on the intricacies of the game. Bauer has a Twitter account — @BauerOutage, one where he states he thinks about every tweet before it’s sent — as well as a Facebook fan page and a YouTube channel. He recalls how much it felt when he obtained Zito’s autograph prior to a game; Twitter, for better or worse has essentially become the modern-day John Hancock. Just don’t expect many rants about politics or music, or pictures of what he’s eating at any given moment. A recent fan asked Bauer about his mechanics in high school, and he replied that he did not, in fact, slam his back knee after his “pelvic load” — he was merely able to “create good separation by delaying his upper half.” When asked what his definition of “being connected” was, Bauer replied with, “The body working together in tight synchronization through anatomically advantageous positions and patterns.”
Got all that?
After all, it is this that will allow him to focus on his rotations, using human physics to create a velocity which typically touches 98 miles per hour in a given game. For good measure, Bauer throws harder towards the tail end of his starts than he does in the early innings.
Bauer shrugs off those who question independent thinking, preferring discussion and supporting arguments. He’s by no means stubborn — the much-discussed warm-up routine changes by the week, does not always include 400-feet of long toss and ends when he has a “certain feel” that hinges on existential items like, well, the weather – but why conform for conformity sake? While others want to point at Jaeger’s camp as an extremist cult that creates unholy mechanics which are not sustainable for a professional pitcher, Bauer deems his time there a “spiritual awakening.”
A lot has undoubtedly changed from the time when Bauer was a 7-year-old kid being summoned to the mound for the first time in what would be (and hopefully continue to be) a storied career at that very position. And while all of the analysis and dissection may go on between starts and for a good portion of the offseason, rest assured that once Bauer crosses over the white lines, as Antonetti says, the only thing on his mind is competing.
And having not been guaranteed a spot in the big league starting rotation, competing is all Bauer is here to do, regardless of the methods behind his, for lack of better term, madness.
(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)
You know, instead of the groin injury that limited his rotation and back-leg mechanics [↩]
The emotions emitted from photo above provide stark contrast to the recent introduction of free agent outfielder and perpetual smiler Nick Swisher [↩]
He’d like to finish his degree, but it will depend on how much knowledge surrounding engineering that he loses while soaking up that of the game of baseball [↩]