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2019 Season in Review - Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer disappointed fantasy managers everywhere in 2019 after a dominant 2018 campaign where he finished sixth in AL Cy Young voting. Setting career-bests with a 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 221 strikeouts in 175.1 IP (30.8% K%), the 28-year-old entered the 2019 draft season as a top-10 pitcher with an ADP of 31. His results were far from what anyone expected, including his own team, as the Cleveland Indians were forced to deal Bauer away to the National League at the deadline.

While the switch in leagues may seem like a drastic change on the surface, the reality was it was only a 250-mile move down the highway to play for the Cincinnati Reds. The change in scenery failed to make a difference with Bauer's already slumping season, however, as he finished the year with an 11-13 record, 4.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 27.8% K-rate. The end result was a far cry from his Cy Young-candidate numbers the year before.

When we dive into Bauer's stats from this past season, we see a lot of similarities from 2018 and beyond that make him one of the top strikeout arms in the game. On the flip side, it appears batters made an adjustment to the former All-Star and capitalized on his pitching tendencies to help him allow the second-most runs in the entire league. Let's take a look at where it all went wrong for Bauer in 2019.

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Bauer Outage?

The most egregious area where Bauer lacked was in his inability to keep the ball in the park. After finishing the 2018 campaign with a 0.46 HR/9, he entered the 2019 season with a career 0.98 mark, a figure that catapulted to 1.44 last season. That was bad enough for a bottom-15 number in all of baseball. His HR/FB paralleled these numbers by soaring up nearly 10% from 6.2% in 2018 to 15.3% in 2019 after coming into the year with an 11.0% lifetime mark. We knew some negative regression would happen in these areas going into the season, but nowhere near these catastrophic levels.

So, where do we lay the blame for this home run vulnerability? The obvious place to look is at his uptick in fly balls allowed (28.2% FB%), which hit a six-year high after three-straight years with numbers at 23% or below. It wasn't purely the fact that Bauer gave up more balls in the air than normal that caused the 34-homer outburst; it was the way hitters attacked his fastball.

Bauer has a six-pitch arsenal, but the 20 long balls given up last year on his four-seamer would make you think otherwise. Opposing batters targeted this delivery early and often by swatting seven homers on the first pitch of an at-bat, and another seven on the second offering. Bauer leans heavily on his 94.8 MPH heater to get ahead in the count early with a 45.6% usage to begin an AB. His cutter was his next favored first pitch offering with a 22.2% usage, so batters had a strong inkling a breaking ball wasn't coming.

With a wipeout slider and a devastating curveball, it's no wonder hitters attacked Bauer more often early in their ABs. Whether or not he adjusts his approach next year to rectify these mistakes remains to be seen, but his staggering HR stats should pull back closer to the mean in 2020.


Bauer-ful Arm

Bauer's K-rate may have declined 3% from 2018 to 2019, but it wasn't enough to push him out of the league's top-five in strikeout totals. A career-high 213.0 innings pitched last season aided the former third-overall pick to reach 253 punchouts in his time split between the two leagues.

Despite his four-seamer getting hit harder than ever, it made batters swing-and-miss more often with a 21.7% Whiff%, the highest mark of his career. He paired his gas with a slider to sit down right-handers (44.1% Whiff%) and a curveball to finish lefties (32.1% Whiff%), both elite-level marks. These deliveries led to a near 6% increase from 2018 in batters whiffing on balls out of the zone (56.2% O-Contact%), the problem was they swung more often when it was going to be a strike.

When hitters saw the fastball in the zone, they took advantage of it with a 69.5% Swing%, up from a 61.7% mark in 2018. Contrary to these numbers, opponents took Bauer's slider for a strike more often with a 57.1% Swing% in the zone, a massive 18.8% drop from the season before.

Bauer's .272 BA against his four-seamer versus his .177 BA off his breaking balls is a telling tale of why batters chose to be aggressive early. Opponents sat fastball and destroyed it in 2019, but when he was able to get ahead in two-strike counts, he made no mistake by putting them away with his breaking pitches.


2020 Outlook

After Bauer sealed his fate by launching the game ball over the center-field fence instead of handing it over to manager Terry Francona, his landing spot at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark was less than ideal. While it's true that he struggled more with the Reds in his two-month sample (6.39 ERA/1.35 WHIP), he actually fared well at GAB with a 3.55 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in five starts.

Seeing his HR/9 balloon from 1.26 with the Indians to 1.92 with Cincinnati also carries some red flags. 2019 was his first season throwing more than 190 innings, and the first time in three seasons he eclipsed 177 IP. Perhaps his late-season home run susceptibility can be chalked up to fatigue or just a lack of focus on a non-contending team. Whatever the reason, Bauer has still shown an incredible ability to strike batters out and that skill doesn't appear to be faltering.

The 28-year-old will have to adapt to hitters in 2020 as they adjusted to him after his impressive 2018 campaign. He will have to throw more breaking balls earlier in counts next season to keep batters honest and not cheat on his four-seamer. Like most pitchers, Bauer is at his best when he's ahead in the count, and he'll be able to sneak his fastball by batters while they're guessing what's coming on a two-strike pitch. Positive regression will be on Bauer's side next season for a change as he'll undoubtedly look to rebound heading into his contract year.

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