Spin-to-win: Bauer breaker throws streaking Pirates for loop

Seven of Bauer's 10 Ks Wednesday came on breaking balls

Alex Hooper
July 25, 2018 - 6:29 pm
Jul 25, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (47) delivers in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports


Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Two hours before the Cleveland Indians’ series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates, manager Terry Francona indicated that starter Trevor Bauer was the one who could slow down the visitors.

Boy did he ever.

Bauer spun seven innings of two-hit baseball, striking out 10. The righty did so in the same way that Francona had almost predicted he would.

Winners of 11 games in a row, the Buccos were targeting fastballs early in the count, and driving them.

“We're playing a team right now that, if you make a mistake, they don't miss. They're swinging so aggressively in the strike zone and not leaving the strike zone,” Francona said. “Trevor's going to have to slow them down. He's the one guy with that breaking ball that hopefully can.”

Bauer used his best pitch, the knuckle curve, on 29 of his 102 offerings, racking up 10 called strikes and three whiffs. Zero of his curves were put in play.

The 27-year-old backed up his main offering with 20 sliders, by which he earned six whiffs and a called strike. He earned five of his punchouts on the pitch, and two more on the curve.

Bauer’s only stumbling block came in the top of the 7th, when he walked leadoff hitter Gregory Polanco before walking Josh Bell a batter later. The hurler had a simple explanation for the hiccup.

”Just me being stupid and throwing heaters. Should never do that. Threw too many heaters in a row,” he said with a smile. “As soon as I started throwing breaking balls again, I was good. That’s what makes me good.”

The adjustment - if you even want to call it that, considering Bauer’s two breaking balls make up 42.4% of all of his pitches to begin with - was borne out of the opportunity to see the streaking Pirates twice prior to his start.

Throughout the entirety of their win streak, Pittsburgh’s aggression was noted. The Pirates’ 50.3% swing rate was tied for the 2nd-highest in baseball in that span, while their 80.2% contact rate was 6th.

That aggression, specifically, was directed towards fastballs. According to FanGraphs’ posted a weighted value of 13.8 against the fastballs during their streak, 2nd in baseball behind the Dodgers, but almost a full five points ahead of the 3rd-place New York Yankees.

This is not to say that the Pirates struggled against breaking pitches. Their 5.0 value against curveballs also ranked 2nd, but not all breakers are equal. Bauer’s curve ranked top-15 in baseball in 2017, and is in the top-30 on a per-pitch basis in 2018.

“So you watch the first two games, they’re super comfortable in the box, super confident, and they’re getting their arms extended on a lot of stuff, putting the barrel on balls. Try to adjust,” Bauer said. “The nice thing about throwing everything is hitters can’t hit everything. You get a really good report on them watching them two games in a row, threw the stuff they hadn’t seen yet, at least the first time through.”

Wednesday was Bauer’s 12th consecutive start of seven-or-more strikeouts placing him in a tie with ‘Sudden’ Sam McDowell for the 2nd-longest such streak in Indians history. He trails only teammate Corey Kluber’s run of 14 starts from June 1 to August 13, 2017.

Bauer’s ninth double-digit strikeout game places him in a tie with Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale for 2nd-most in baseball in 2018, trailing only Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer’s 10.