I don’t think I hide the fact that when it comes to baseball, as much as I like the broad stroke enjoyment of the game such as visiting new ballparks, seeing a power hitter clobber a home run, and seeing a walk off victory, I take a tremendous enjoyment in the smallest things as well. Things that seem too small and insignificant that they hardly can be said to have occurred at all, but when you know what to look for and see it happen and know what might or might not happen as a result, it’s no less enjoyable.
In other words, there’s a tremendous amount of nerdy shit that I love about baseball that aren’t the flashy, most attractive things about the game like home runs, strikeouts and throwing 100 miles per hour. That said, every now and then on the internet, there will be stories and articles about baseball that aren’t talking about the Boston Red Sox’s hot start, the home run potential of the New York Yankees, or the Los Angeles Angels of Orange County, Anaheim via Interstate 5 South’s Shohei Ohtani, but something more intricate and harder to comprehend for the casual baseball fan, and these are the ones that tend to pique my interest, or at least be reliable for a good 10-minute read. Stories about like overlooked statistics and baseball skills, the intangible evidence of clubhouse chemistry, and some other real Moneyball Doctor Manhattan kind of shit.
Throughout the last few years, among the more interesting stories that have come and gone within the game of baseball, there’s been a name that I’d been seeing popping up sporadically: Trevor Bauer, a starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. I’m pretty sure it started when he was in a game where he passively mimicked the batting stances of several of his teammates in a game, which was noteworthy solely for the fact that he is an American League pitcher having some fun with his at-bats during Interleague playing in a National League ballpark. Baseball sometimes tends to take itself too seriously sometimes, so I could appreciate a guy like Bauer who manages to find some way to have some fun and bring some laughs into the glorified kids’ game.
Then there was this story about how a baseball player helped a baseball fan with her math homework over Twitter, and lo and behold, it was Trevor Bauer. It was here did I learn that Bauer went to UCLA and was pretty much a pretty smart nerd, and if there were ever a type of player that I tend to favor, it’s the brainy types that embrace knowledge and learning as opposed to just believing that god and their natural talent can carry their careers. And the fact that Bauer took the time to do something so simple and meaningful to a young fan, it’s endearing in my opinion.
Because I’m a baseball nerd, I love reading books about science-y stuff of the game. Books like Moneyball, The Extra 2%, and Scorecasting come immediately to mind, but in this one book called The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, it’s basically a book about pitchers and their arms and why they’re so valuable, but why they’re so risky because of potential injury. Without giving anything away, there’s chapter about how there’s a training facility where one of the methods they use are weighted baseballs, of varying weights above or below MLB regulation, in order to develop pitching muscles, rehab or make some mechanical changes. Surprising no one, Trevor Bauer is a regular of this facility, and apparently is capable of throwing a weighted baseball up to 105 mph. And contrary to the belief that throwing less reduces the risk of injury, Bauer is of the impression that throwing more often but regularly is how to risk it, and considering the fact that he’s been good for 30+ starts in three straight years, the nerd might not be wrong.
Bauer made it to the big time in 2016, when news of him slicing up the pinky finger of his pitching hand while playing around with a drone became national news, because it happened during the middle of the ALCS. But ever the gamer, Bauer insisted that it wouldn’t affect his ability to pitch and took the hill regardless, but after bleeding all over baseballs and the pitching mound in Toronto, he was pulled before he could even complete a single inning. Despite the strain of losing the starter in the first inning, the Indians went on to win the game anyway, and they advanced to the World Series regardless.
Unfortunately for Bauer, he was mostly ineffective during the World Series, and took losses in both of his starts, with a lot of criticism being flung his way for his off-field hobbies and compromising his pitching hand in the weeks leading up to the World Series. But far be it for anyone to be the fun police to what players do off the field, so I’d wager a guy like Bauer couldn’t give two shits about what anyone thinks about his love for drones, much like a guy like Joel Zumaya probably doesn’t care that people think his Guitar Hero obsession cost his team a World Series.
I think the seeds of fandom really came to full bloom this past off-season when Trevor Bauer was one of the handful of baseball players to go to salary arbitration with his team and win. Salary arbitration is a silly antiquated process where a player and the team disagree on what the player should be paid for the upcoming season, and then they put the decision into the hands of arbiters who listen to both sides why a guy should be paid what he thinks and what the team thinks what he should be paid. It’s kind of an uncomfortable and invasive procedure that usually leads to sour grapes from one side regardless of the end decision.
In the case of Trevor Bauer, he ultimately ended up beating the Cleveland Indians, and proved that he should be paid $6.5 million dollars instead of the $5.3M that the Indians wanted to pay, which is one of the more substantial differences in proposed salaries to go in favor of the player. However, ultimately $6.5M was more than Bauer was anticipating to make, so in a combined attempt to make a mockery of the arbitration system which he has been vocal about being against, as well as an opportunity for good will, he’s taking a chunk of the salary overage, and running a campaign called “The 69 Days of Giving;” with the choice of numbers being very deliberate, in the most sophomoric of manners.
The nerd is also a bro. Can’t hate on that.
So for 69 days, Bauer is donating $420.69 to various charities on a daily basis, with a final donation of $69,420.69 going to one particular charity that he’s keeping secret presumably until then. But knowing Bauer, we probably know it’s going to be something funny and/or ironic, and/or just plain noble. His justification is golden too, stating that if he donated a lump sum of $100k, it would be done, over and forgotten in a day, but stretching it out over the span of 69 days, it’s news worthy, and helps spread the awareness for if anyone else wanted to get in on the charity.
As is often the case early in seasons, when the weather isn’t blazing hot and pitchers struggle with grip on the baseball, we get the usual array of implied cheating going on among the fraternity of pitchers; where everyone is doing it, but nobody talks about it. And this year’s edition of “all the pitchers are cheating” articles done by major outlets, there’s a brief take on it by none other than my new favorite player, Trevor Bauer, who talks about, scientifically, naturally, what effects pine tar has on pitcher grip and the revolutions it does to a thrown ball.
I thought I was pretty well educated in shit like wOBA, WAR, FIP, SIERA and other sabermetric terminology that only nerds on the internet in their moms’ basements, but I guess I fell off the wagon before analysis got to the point where pitchers pitch RPMs were being measured. But leave it to an egghead like Trevor Bauer to not only be on top of it, to know exactly where he stacks up to average pitch RPM and how much more effective he could be if he ever chose to hop aboard the “everyone does it” pine tar train.
He’s probably not wrong either, because in the grand scheme of pitching physics, more revolutions mean typically more movement, and more downward action to anything that is hit (ground balls), if they’re not swinging through them. Pine tar, or any other foreign substance allows that much more of a tighter grip which leads to more RPM, and it’s pretty crazy to see just how much difference just the smallest variable does.
And finally, we’ve got the sheer notion that Trevor Bauer is speaking out about more things that in itself has become newsworthy. It should be pointed out that this particular article is written by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who also wrote The Arm book, and clearly has some sort of relationship or at least degree of favoritism towards Trevor Bauer. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m okay with it, because over the years, he’s gotten my attention, and I’m pleased to see a talented, albeit slightly unorthodox to baseball’s stuffy traditions, nerdy kind of guy see his star rising as he reaches his peak.
Needless to say, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a Trevor Bauer fan, and I hope that he continues to have a fruitful career and continues to make news in the most quirky and out-of-the-baseball-ordinary ways as time passes.