“My dad always told me that success was going to be defined in the future—in five, 10, 15 years—not by today’s game. So to have a process and have a goal, and if I went out and did the work and did the research to get better, I would give myself the best opportunity to reach those goals.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to learn how to increase the velocity of a fastball. Trevor Bauer doesn’t hold a doctorate degree. However, if it wasn’t for a high school physics course, Bauer might not be pitching in the Major Leagues.
“It really piqued my interest in maximizing mechanics and how that applies to baseball,” says Bauer, the 23-year-old starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. “I started really taking it to the next level, trying to study and devote myself to improving.”
Bauer wasn’t the best pitcher on his freshman high school team. He missed the cut for his summer club’s “A” tournament team that year. The reason, according to Bauer, was because he didn’t throw hard enough.
“I was tired of it,” Bauer says. “I knew that if I wanted to make it to the next level, I would have to throw it harder.”
The solution was simple. Bauer needed to increase the velocity on his fastball. His formula for doing so, however, was more complex.
Bauer says, “I was in the pursuit of this number—it was 100 mph. That became my ultimate motivation, because that number to me represented the opportunity to play at the next level.”
To get there, Bauer studied the physics of pitching with the goal of maximizing his mechanical efficiency—a ”cross-pollination between academics and baseball,” he says.
Bauer approached each outing, workout and side session as if it were a science experiment. He focused on maximizing his mechanical efficiency—concentrating on generating force from his lower body, transferring energy efficiently to the ball, and eliminating wasted movements in his delivery, among many other nuances of the pitching motion.
In high school, Bauer used the fall and winter months to maximize his stuff—velocity, pitch shapes, his intent to throw hard.
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“I was only focused on my mechanics and throwing hard,” Bauer says. “As I worked on increasing my velocity, my control suffered, but I established a new baseline to throw hard. You’ll never have command of 95 unless you can throw 95 first. You’re not going to try to command the ball at 85. There has to be a conscious effort to throw hard. Once you throw hard, you work on harnessing it.”
Bauer posted a career 32-5 record in 44 starts and set the Pac-10 single-season strikeouts record with 203 in 2011.
Bauer topped out at 84 mph his sophomore year of high school. By his junior season Bauer, who checked in at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds, increased the velocity of his fastball to 94-95 mph.
He secured a baseball scholarship to UCLA, set the Pac-10 single-season record for strikeouts in and won the Golden Spikes Award in 2011 as the top amateur baseball player in the country.
The benefits of maximizing his mechanical efficiency didn’t just affect a surge in his velocity. It also set him up for long-term injury prevention.
For as much attention as he put into enhancing his mechanical efficiency, Bauer believes his ability to stay healthy was established not by pitching, but by playing the field.
Even after he shifted to full-time pitcher, Bauer routinely fielded ground balls from the shortstop position and shagged pop-ups in the outfield. Working on his range and throwing on the run from different body positions further developed his athleticism and trained him to throw and release the ball more quickly.
Bauer says, “The less time your body has to mess up, the more efficiently it moves. I think that’s one of the main reasons why I developed an arm action that is conducive to staying healthy.”
The State of the Arms
Bauer’s success at the Major League level was a consequence of the plan he laid out when he ultimately made the decision to pitch full-time, but not everyone agreed with the young pitcher’s method to his madness.
Early on, Bauer was labeled as aloof. Some whispered the kid was a “head case,” not worth the hassle despite his obvious upside. Still, talent being talent, an organization was sure to give Bauer a shot in the majors.
Seven pitchers selected in the first round of the 2011 Draft have made it to the big leagues, four of whom have made an instant impact for their respective clubs.
Gerrit Cole, the first overall pick in the draft, finished his first full big league season in 2014 with a record of 11-5 and a 3.65 ERA.
Miami Marlins P Jose Fernandez won the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year award, while Sonny Gray has established himself as a front-of-the rotation starter for a dominant Oakland Athletics starting rotation.
The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Bauer with the third overall pick in 2011. He was fast-tracked through the Diamondbacks system and made his major league debut in June 2012, becoming the first player from the 2011 draft class to reach the big leagues.
He made four starts for the Diamondbacks in 2012, and in a surprise move, was shipped to the Indians the following off-season.
Bauer’s reputation, which preceded him into the big leagues, created waves almost right away. On the mound, he was an extraordinary talent with a vast assortment of weapons to get hitters out, including a fastball that he could run up to 97 mph. It’s what he did between starts—and often between the lines—that puzzled coaches, scouts and front office personnel.
Bauer played long toss from 400 feet. He tinkered with and deployed an arsenal of nine different pitches. And, of course, there was his live wire, Happy Gilmore-esque warm-up pitch, for which he would crow hop down the mound and unleash a 90-plus mile-per-hour fastball before the start of each inning.
The Diamondbacks “begrudgingly permitted [Bauer] to do his eccentric long-toss program,” but reportedly grew tired of his antics after just two seasons with the organization. According to Baseball America, “The relationship between team and pitcher deteriorated quickly. Bauer has worked out his own throwing program for years, and the Diamondbacks have said publicly they did not feel he was receptive to making changes they suggested.”
Meanwhile, Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero went on record saying, “he’s got his way and it’s tough to change it.”
It’s not so much that Bauer was a “know it all,” as Montero implied. Rather, Bauer knew what worked best for him.
Bauer is projected to be a front-end starter in the Indians rotation when he takes the mound in 2015.
Since joining the Indians, Bauer has developed into an effective starting pitcher with the potential to emerge as a front-of-the-rotation ace. More important, he’s managed to stay healthy and avoid any arm or shoulder injuries so far in his professional career.
The same can’t be said for the majority of the top arms selected in the 2011 Draft.
Fernandez, the Marlins staff ace, landed on the season-ending DL after Tommy John surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in May.
Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners, missed the 2014 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and labrum damage in his left shoulder.
Dylan Bundy of the Baltimore Orioles, selected fourth overall, underwent Tommy John surgery last year and did not appear in the Major Leagues in 2014.
Bauer, meanwhile, started 26 games, logged 153 innings, and increased the velocity on his fastball from an average of 92.6 mph in 2013 to 93.8 mph this past season.
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway told the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “He’s probably more advanced than any 23-year-old I’ve ever seen. It’s because of the way he thinks and goes about things. If he wasn’t that type of person—just look at him—he wouldn’t be who he is.”
As for the other first-round pitchers from the 2011 Draft …
Fernandez won’t begin throwing off a mound until after the first of the year, and he’s no lock to be ready to roll for the Marlins on opening day.
The outlook is still promising for Bundy, who was named the Orioles No. 1 prospect by Baseball America for 2015.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon doesn’t believe the left-handed Hultzen will be able to qualify for the 25-man roster out of spring training.
On the other hand, Bauer is throwing harder than he ever has in his career.
“There were points this year where I was sitting at 97 and topping out at 99,” Bauer says.
The way he sees it, pitchers who return from Tommy John surgery often lose their intent to throw hard because they’re trying to command the ball better.
He says, “You can cheat it for a certain amount of time, but that’s when you see the guys that are phenomenons their first couple of years but end up getting hurt. You take a guy that was 98-99 when he first came up with electric stuff, now he’s 93-94 with better command, but his stuff isn’t as good.”
Bauer is healthy and still has his electric stuff. After another off-season of maximizing his mechanical efficiency and after years of chasing it, he may even hit that magical number of 100 mph.
Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer brings one against the Chicago White Sox in Cleveland in July, 2014