It’s not only that Trevor Bauer plays long toss from 350 feet. It’s not just that his regimen includes throwing pitches through a tunnel or even that at one time or another, by his count, he has used 19 different pitches.
The Indians’ newest starting pitcher, who could earn a spot in the rotation during spring training, is more than the sum of his quirky, albeit deeply considered, beliefs about the science of pitching. At the tender age of 21, Bauer has insisted on being his own man, reasoning that at stake is his career.
Right or wrong, Bauer marches to the beat of his own drummer, which he hears through a headset when he throws bullpens. Whatever Bauer is, one thing is clear: He’s a piece of work.
That is the conclusion that seems evident by the record amassed in news reports from Southern California, where he attended college, in Phoenix, where he made his major-league debut, in USA Today and in a lengthy Sports Illustrated article published weeks after he was taken by the Diamondbacks as the No. 3 player in the 2011 draft.
Let’s start with the widest-known element of Bauer’s eccentric routine: throwing long toss from outfield foul line to outfield foul line. Derek Lowe, for one, also believed he could strengthen his arm by playing long toss, so Bauer is hardly a pioneer in this area.
Most major-league organizations frown on the practice, and imagine a pitching coach watching Bauer heave a ball 300-some feet repeatedly hours before he is to start and after he has thrown 45 practice pitches in the bullpen. For now, the Indians say they will continue to allow Bauer to do his long-toss routine.
Bauer’s convictions — dating to when he was 10 — are more comprehensible in light of the fact he is the son of a chemical engineer and was on track to become a mechanical engineer, himself, when he was drafted out of UCLA. Bauer would probably tell you that throwing an effective pitch is no more than putting into practice certain principles of physics after maximizing your physical attributes.
As a 10-year-old, Bauer took pitching lessons from a family friend and former college pitcher, Jim Wagner, who became a police officer in Glendale, Calif. According to the article in SI, Wagner was the first to show Bauer certain unconventional mechanics. When Bauer was 12, he came under the influence of long-toss advocate Alan Jaeger, who tutored Dan Haren, now of the Washington Nationals. Jaeger sold Bauer on a program to keep his arm sound.
It’s not surprising that Bauer began to approach pitching the way a microbiologist thinks about deconstructing the DNA code.
“Look, I’m not that big,” the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Bauer told a reporter last year. “I’m not that strong. I’m not fast. I’m not explosive. I can’t jump. I wasn’t a natural-born athlete. I was made.”
According to Bauer, no play in baseball lasts more than 12 seconds. Consequently, he exercises in short bursts, and during his pregame stretching routine, he works with ropes, pulleys and poles to reinforce that concept.
Bauer also was introduced to the theories of Perry Husband, a former hitting coach who believes an inside pitch looks faster to a hitter than a pitch on the outside part of the plate. He also postulates that a hitter must make up his mind to swing after a pitch has traveled 20 feet from the pitcher’s hand. As a result, a pitcher who can make each delivery look the same for the first 20 feet has a distinct advantage.
Bauer and his father took the theory to the next level by building a tunnel that stretches several feet from his release point. Bauer throws pitches through the tunnel to force himself to keep the ball on the same plane.
During his three seasons at UCLA, Bauer would begin warmups each inning by walking to the grass behind the mound, turning abruptly and racing back toward the rubber and throwing the ball as hard as he could toward the plate. This was no stunt to please the fans. Bauer said it improved his velocity but conceded that in pro ball he might have to abandon the practice.
Bauer also thought he needed a role model who throws the ball in an unconventional manner. That’s when he discovered Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants. Throughout his time at UCLA, Bauer wore the same cap, possibly because Lincecum seldom changes his cap.
“He’s the pitcher I admire the most,” Bauer told one reporter at UCLA.
Maybe it stands to reason that an athlete willing to risk being mocked because of the bizarre approach he takes toward his craft would be apt to speak his mind and express his thoughts as he pleases, regardless of the effect it had on his team or his opponents.
And so Bauer told a reporter last year: “I don’t really compete against the hitter. I compete against myself to execute pitches. I could face 10-year-olds in the box and have it be pretty much the same benefit as facing major-league hitters.”
Bauer has run afoul of both teammate and rivals.
“He just had a really tough year with his teammates,” Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall told USA Today.
Bauer shook off catcher Miguel Montero’s sign on the very first pitch of Bauer’s big-league career. When asked about it, Bauer told reporters that he needed to tell Montero how he liked to call a game, angering the catcher.
In addition, Bauer reportedly disdained the advice of coaches and veteran Diamondbacks players after being called up in September. The Diamondbacks presumably sent a message to Bauer by failing to include him in their initial call-ups after he exploded during the Triple-A playoffs because he was yanked one out short of qualifying for the decision.
After reaching the big leagues, Bauer was chastised for using Twitter a half hour before a game, and his negative tweet about Barack Obama’s performance in the first presidential debate — “Obama looked childish and petty tonight. I’m ashamed that he is commander-in-chief of this great nation” — was not well received in the clubhouse or by team officials.
“We can find a middle ground,” Bauer told one reporter. “I’m constantly evolving. People make me out to be a guy who says it’s my way or the highway, and it’s not that way at all.”
Through all of this, there is little doubt that Bauer has talent. It will be up to Indians manager Terry Francona and his staff to harness it. With Bauer’s permission, of course.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.