Back when the Dodgers signed Trevor Bauer a few weeks ago, aside from the already present controversies regarding his social media presence, many on social media and real reporters raised the issue of how good a pitcher Bauer actually is. Did he warrant the record breaking money that he will receive over the next 2 years or even come close enough to that level of performance where it doesn't matter?
Such a pitcher as Bauer, who constantly reinvents himself through biomechanics as well as pitch development and sequencing, provides a complicated subject for analysis because it's hard to know whether or not he will pitch similarly season to season. Thus, it's difficult to project his performance if he makes significant changes to his arsenal and pitch mix over an offseason. However, I'm going to try to do the best I can based on his 2020, where he was obviously quite successful. Seeing as he performed at an All-Star level and won the Cy Young Award, it seems unlikely Bauer would drastically reinvent himself for 2021, making these reasonable starting points for projections.
Bauer pitched incredibly well in his 2020 starts, posting a 2.88 FIP and a 3.25 xFIP along with a 12.3 k/9 and a 5.9 k/BB, all superb marks. Additionally, he pitched to a tremendous 0.79 WHIP and stranded 90.9% of runners he let on base, mostly getting burned by home runs in 2020.
It's also clear from his Statcast percentiles that while Bauer was hit relatively hard, it was mostly shown through groundballs, as we can see from his elite ranking in categories that measure things such as opponents' on base percentage. Bauer also limited walks more than he has during most of his career and was better than 95% of qualified pitchers in terms of his strikeout rate. Anyways you look at it, he was really, really good in 2020.
Obviously, most of Bauer's competition last year was offensives with below league-average production, but that fact shouldn't be used discredit to his Cy Young season. He was given the competition he was given, and he absolutely dominated it, with the highlight of his season being a 7 2/3 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts and 0 walks against Atlanta in the wild card round.
Most projections have Bauer as the between the 5th and 10th best starter in the National League in terms of fWAR, due to what they project to be very good but not quite elite production in more than 180 innings.
Personally, I'm expecting Bauer to be the Dodgers' second best starter behind Walker Buehler (I'm higher on him that the projections, but then again, I'm biased) but depending on how well Clayton Kershaw pitches, he could be the Dodgers' number 3. Regardless, there's little doubt that Bauer should easily be a top 10 pitcher in the National League in both production and volume, making him worth the exorbitant contract in my opinion, especially considering he consistently improves, making him likely to outperform his projections, and keeps himself in great health by monitoring various levels of performance in his body.
Now that we've looked at how well he's projected to pitch in at least his first year in Los Angeles, let's dive a little bit deeper into his actual pitching by looking closer at his 2020 season.
Bauer throws primarily a fastball, cutter, slider, and curveball mix while occasionally missing in a sinker and change-up. As you can see above, he primarily throws his fastball and pretty equally distributes most of the rest of his pitches among his cutter, slider, and curveball, which are all quite effective pitches, or, at least, were in 2020. He mostly attacks lefties with his cutter and curveball and righties with his slider, but will mix it up as you can see. He barely through his change-up in 2020, but it looks as if he was trying to develop another weapon vs left-handed hitters, which makes sense because he was much worse against them in 2020 than he was righties.
However, he was still good against them; he was just essentially unhittable for righties. The only real discernible discrepancy here is that he gave up 8 homers to lefties and only 1 to righties, which is definitely something he should try to work on in 2020.
It's clear here that Bauer is an excellent pitcher even if he can't quite sustain his otherworldly numbers from 2020, and, luckily, he won't have to with the depth of the Dodgers' pitching staff. I'm expecting something between 2020 and the Fangraphs projections from above (which are always low on the actual statistics for pitchers, I only really look at them for rankings).
Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for more offseason wrap up and spring training content here on the blog as well as for the first episode of the Dodgers Debrief podcast, the first episode of which will be available on all major podcast platforms on Monday.
Research for this article was conducted on Fangraphs and Baseball Savant
Title photo from official Dodgers Twitter account