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History's warning signs for Trevor Bauer's future

History does not favor Bauer after difficulties with control, run prevention

History's warning signs for Trevor Bauer's future
January 6, 2014
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When general manager Chris Antonetti acquired Trevor Bauer in last offseason's Shin-Soo Choo trade, some -- including me -- heralded the right-hander as the present and future ace of the Cleveland rotation.

Clearly that did not go according to plan.

Bauer struggled from the get-go as he underwent a change to his pitching mechanics and brought the phrase "neuromuscular programming" into our lexicon. The right-hander pitched poorly during his brief callups in 2013, posting a 5.29 ERA, a 7.05 FIP, and 11:16 SO:BB in 17.0 innings. The results in the minors -- a 4.15 ERA, a 5.08 FIP, and 106:73 SO:BB in 121.1 innings -- did not inspire confidence either.

Considering that Bauer turns 23 years old later this month, I still think the right-hander has a very high upside. After all, he was a consensus top-10 prospect in all of baseball per Baseball America before 2012 and a consensus top-15 prospect in all of baseball per Baseball America before 2013. Bauer was IBI's #2 prospect before 2013 -- only behind Francisco Lindor -- due to his three above-average pitches (fastball, curveball, and slider) and his proximity to the majors.

But that does not take away from how poorly Bauer pitched in 2013.

Last Saturday I wrote about Danny Salazar's historic season. Bauer also had a historic season, though more in the infamous sense.

In terms of Bauer's ERA and FIP, the right-hander posted a 138 ERA- and 184 FIP- (both ERA- and FIP- put the stats in the context of the season; 100 is average, a higher mark is worse for a pitcher). Put simply, in Bauer's 17.0 innings, he was pretty bad from an ERA standpoint but really bad in terms of his FIP.

So how many pitchers have posted similar numbers in a major league season?

Season

Name

Team

Age

IP

ERA

FIP

ERA-

FIP-

WAR

K/9

BB/9

K/9+

BB/9+

1909

Dick Carroll

Highlanders

24

5.0

3.60

5.01

138

195

-0.1

1.80

1.80

47

67

1910

Ed Moyer

Senators

24

25.0

3.24

4.16

134

184

-0.5

1.08

4.68

27

155

1910

Bill Crouch

Browns

23

8.0

3.38

4.45

137

178

-0.1

2.25

7.88

57

262

1917

Rube Parnham

Athletics

23

11.0

4.09

5.17

149

184

-0.2

3.27

7.36

95

268

1920

Hod Leverette

Browns

31

10.1

5.23

7.49

133

195

-0.3

0.00

10.45

0

379

1948

Dick Weik

Senators

20

12.2

5.68

7.63

135

183

-0.3

5.68

15.63

154

396

1993

Paul Abbott

Indians

25

18.1

6.38

7.57

148

176

-0.4

3.44

5.40

59

161

1999

Brian McNichol

Cubs

25

10.2

6.75

8.01

148

175

-0.2

10.12

5.91

156

158

2011

Armando Galarraga

Diamondbacks

29

42.2

5.91

7.29

148

182

-0.9

5.91

4.64

83

149

2013

Ramon Ortiz

Blue Jays

40

25.1

6.04

7.43

148

183

-0.5

2.84

3.91

38

129

2013

Trevor Bauer

Indians

22

17.0

5.29

7.05

138

184

-0.3

5.82

8.47

77

280

Parameters: ERA- between 130 and 150; FIP- between 175 and 195; at least half of appearances are starts

A few of these pitchers -- like Ortiz -- experienced this type of season partway or near the end of their careers. The majority, however, saw this happen in their first season or two, just like Bauer.

As you can see in the table, most of these pitchers did not throw that many innings; like Bauer, teams do not typically continue to give pitcher performing this badly innings. What is interesting is how these teams treated these pitchers aftertheir bad seasons (leaving out Ortiz and Bauer since the season after their bad performance is 2014).

For five of the  nine -- Carroll, Moyer, Crouch, Leverette, and McNichol -- this was the only time they appeared in the major leagues. Additionally, Parnham's 1917 season was his second -- and his last -- while Abbot was out of the majors from 1994 until 1998 following his 1993 campaign and Galarraga was only given 24.0 major league innings in the two years since 2011.

The "best" case scenario from this table is Weik, though even his career is not impressive. That 1948 season in the table was his rookie year; Weik went on to pitch from 1949-50 and 1953-54, posting a career ERA of 5.90, a career FIP of 5.66, and a career WHIP of 2.059.

Weik did not pitch in the majors in 1951 and 1952, though it was because he was serving in the Korean War. He might have pitched beyond the season that landed him on this table, but the results are far from encouraging for Bauer's future.

Trevor  Bauer

Trevor Bauer (Photo: tribevibe.mlblogs.com)

Beyond ERA- and FIP-, the other thing that jumps out about Bauer's 2013 season is his utter lack of control. Walking a batter every two innings is cause for alarm, yet Bauer issued only one fewer free pass than innings pitched.

Bauer's high amount of walks are represented in FIP-, but I was curious to see how many pitchers in baseball history had similar levels of relatively few strikeouts and so many walks. Using normalized stats again, Bauer owned a 77 K/9+ and 280 BB/9+ in 2013; now let's look at the other pitchers that posted similar stats:

Season

Name

Team

Age

IP

ERA

FIP

ERA-

FIP-

WAR

K/9

BB/9

K/9+

BB/9+

1897

Al Maul

- - -

31

9.2

7.45

5.70

172

160

-0.1

1.86

8.38

78

276

1903

Charlie Moran

Cardinals

25

24.0

5.25

4.55

164

146

-0.1

2.63

7.13

72

286

1907

Harry Wolter

- - -

22

25.0

4.32

4.46

178

186

-0.4

2.88

7.20

80

277

1908

O.F. Baldwin

Cardinals

26

14.2

6.14

3.67

265

179

-0.2

3.07

6.75

84

273

1916

Cap Crowell

Athletics

23

39.2

4.99

4.28

176

151

-0.3

3.40

7.71

89

272

1951

Bob Wiesler

Yankees

20

9.1

13.50

5.37

346

140

-0.1

2.89

10.61

76

283

1999

Matt Riley

Orioles

19

11.0

7.36

10.32

156

221

-0.4

4.91

10.64

76

285

2001

Steve Green

Angels

23

6.0

3.00

4.72

67

107

0.1

6.00

9.00

89

274

2001

Ramon Martinez

Pirates

33

15.2

8.62

8.67

197

197

-0.5

5.17

9.19

77

279

2003

Mario Ramos

Rangers

25

13.0

6.23

8.26

130

173

-0.2

5.54

9.00

87

273

2005

John Webb

Devil Rays

26

4.0

18.00

9.02

419

211

-0.1

4.50

9.00

71

284

2007

Dana Eveland

Diamondbacks

23

5.0

14.40

5.04

308

106

0.0

5.40

9.00

81

270

2013

Trevor Bauer

Indians

22

17.0

5.29

7.05

138

184

-0.3

5.82

8.47

77

280

Parameters: K/9+ between 70 and 90; BB/9+ between 270 and 290; at least half of appearances are starts

Once again, once a pitcher is throwing this poorly, the team limits his innings severely. Of course, that is assuming the person on the mound really is a pitcher.

Two of the 12 players in the table -- Moran and Wolter -- were actually a catcher and an outfielder respectively. I doubt when Antonetti brought Bauer into the organization last offseason he wanted Bauer's pitching to look like that of a position player's.

Beyond that, Baldwin, Green, and Ramos did not pitch in the majors again, Crowell and Webb's entries in the table came in their second -- and last -- big league seasons, and Maul and Martinez were closer to the end of their careers than the beginning when they posted these results.

The three pitchers left -- Wiesler, Riley, and Eveland -- all had these seasons at the beginning of their career (Wiesler and Riley in their first year, Eveland in his third year, though he only had 59.1 innings in his first two seasons). Wiesler, Riley, and Eveland represent the three cases most similar to Bauer in this sense, so how did they turn out?

  • After serving in Korea, Wiesler had five seasons and 232.0 innings of replacement-level pitching
  • Riley spent the next year in the minors, got hurt, then made it back to the majors for 86.2 innings of replacement-level pitching
  • Eveland pitched in the majors for the next five year, hurling 328.1 total innings before signing with a Korean team before the 2013 season. He was a pretty good pitcher in 2008 -- the year following his appearance on this list -- posting a 4.34 ERA, a 4.09 FIP, and 2.4 fWAR. It was downhill from there, though, as the next four years were all around replacement level.

Bauer's 2013 season was pretty bad and a lot of pitchers who ended up not being able to cut it in the major leagues have posted similar numbers. Given Bauer's youth and how he made well-publicized changes to his mechanics, his poor performance in 2013 could just be a blip in the radar.

But knowing the bad end results of similar pitchers, if these struggles continue throughout 2014, it is possible that Bauer just will not live up to the promise he showed last offseason.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

art
January 7, 2014 - 9:20 AM EST
Interesting article, I remember Baltimore's Matt Riley. He was much like Bauer, a very highly rated kid. He got a second chance too a few years later, if I remember correctly, and struggled again.
Chip
January 6, 2014 - 10:23 PM EST
Well said Adam. The ability to predict through numbers what a career might be is limited. Any individual circumstances are not taken into consideration. It is plain to see that he has the physical potential to be an TOR pitcher, whether he does that or not has nothing to do with what "Joe Smoe" from 1938 might have done. I'm not saying this kid is the next Curt Schilling, for all I know he may be the next Jason Davis. Nothing but exposure will determine his future success or lack there of. Unpredictablility is a large portion of the beauty of baseball. I guess some find enjoyment in trying to do so, which is fine.
Rich
January 6, 2014 - 6:35 PM EST
Bleacher Report says the Indians are encouraged by what they're seeing in Bauer's workouts this winter.

http://bleacherreport.com/tb/dc859?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=cleveland-indians

It's a little confusing, though, because Callaway says he's "getting back to his old delivery" but they also say he made significant adjustments to his delivery and he's just starting to get comfortable with them. That sounds contradictory to me.

Callaway points out that when Bauer gets his pitches over they are very difficult to hit. The column includes a clip of his start against the Yankees last year when he held them to one run in 5+ innings. They were consistently swinging and missing at his breaking stuff.
Robert
January 6, 2014 - 5:01 PM EST
Thanks Jim. Interesting (in a kind of awful way).

Is it possible to do these kinds of comparisons with minor league stats? And if so, are they even worthwhile to do? (i.e. prescriptive in any way, since there is a larger sample size?)
Jim Piascik
January 6, 2014 - 1:03 PM EST
The point of the comparisons weren't to try to draw firm conclusions; that's what projection systems like ZiPS are for. The point was more to illustrate that Bauer's 2013 was historical in a bad way.

I found it interesting that the players with similar seasons -- all limited by the choice of the teams based on the pitchers' poor performances -- really never amounted to anything. I still like Bauer and think that he is a young player going through the lumps of establishing himself as a major league pitcher. But the pitchers with similar years never really figured it out. I thought that was interesting.
Adam
January 6, 2014 - 12:53 PM EST
Pretty silly to try to make any conclusions or historical comparisons based on 17 innings of work. Research shows that walk rate does not stabilize until a pitcher faces 170 batters, and nothing else (hits, avg, slg, iso, etc.) starts to stabilize until he's faced at least 500 batters. Trevor faced 81 batters in 2013 so there's nothing you can really come up with based on that performance as far as stats go. When you're dealing with that small of a sample size, the only thing you can rely on is what you see. What I saw from Trevor is a kid who is very hard to hit, who needs to command the ball better. Callaway and Francona seem happy with the progress he's made this winter.

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