CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – There has been a death in the Indians family, and pitcher Trevor Bauer has confessed to its doing. The right-hander has killed off his slider (no, not THE slider).
Always tinkering with his repertoire, the 27-year-old added a slider mid-season in 2017, but has more-or-less subtracted the pitch in exchange for a hybrid slurve. By proxy, Bauer will return his cutter to a more ‘true’ cut fastball, while adding the breaking ball all the same.
So perhaps you could say Bauer did not kill the pitch, he just spliced it and cloned it.
“That pitch is very interesting, the history with it,” he said. “I’ve thrown a traditional cutter, and I’ve turned it into more of a gyro-ball with a little more depth. I have a little bit of trouble getting that pitch down, so it works fine when I can throw it down off the plate to lefties, but it’s tough if I throw it to righties because it just hangs out over the plate.”
For the sake of adaptation, Bauer turned that old cutter into a slider by moving his thumb-grip down on the ball, which added ‘a little bit more depth, a little bit more run.’ Its main purpose was to provide a spot-specific pitch, but the righty said the grip became uncomfortable and tough to control.
“I needed something besides fastball, curveball that I could throw low in the zone, and so year that’s exactly what it was,” he said. “An on the fly adjustment to patch a hole and then use the off-season to hybrid what I actually want that pitch to be.”
Bauer has done just that, throwing what he estimates to be 30 innings honing the pitch during his training at Driveline Baseball in Kent, Washington. During that time, he has thrown to live hitters using just the new slurve and his fastball.
When Spring Training comes, Bauer will factor in his curve, cutter and changeup to see how he can mix in the slurve.
“Looking forward to seeing Spring Training numbers, seeing reactions from bit league hitters to it,” he said. “Obviously we’ll see once I get out and face a hitter in a game, but … the improvement on it the last few months has been encouraging.”
If you know how Bauer operates, you know he does plenty more work beyond just the physical aspects of his game. He has studied and profiled his new pitch with high expectations, saying the new look slurve profiles similar to two of the best single pitches in the game, Blue Jays righty Marcus Stroman’s curveball, and teammate Corey Kluber’s slurve.
Aiming for those two movement profiles would be a logical progression when looking for a slider/cutter hybrid. Kluber’s slurve had the 3rd-most horizontal movement per slider thrown last season at 7.82 inches per (positive values move in on lefties and vice versa), was 6th in whiff rate at 48.85%, and ranked exactly 57th in vertical movement and velocity.
It is perhaps the best pitch in baseball. Furthermore, Kluber’s slider posted a 37.0 value according to Fangraphs, the top-rated pitch in 2017. For reference, Clayton Kershaw’s dominant fastball is the only other pitch to surpass a 37 in the pitchf/x era (2007-current), a 37.8 mark in 2013.
Kluber’s slurve was the 2nd-best pitch per 100 uses in 2017 at 4.65, behind only Kershaw’s changeup at 7.13. Kluber’s change was the 2nd-best changeup at 4.10.
Stroman’s slider also ranks 9th in horizontal movement, with the 25th-best whiff rate, but Bauer mentioned the Blue Jays ace’s curveball.
The righty only threw his Uncle Charlie 154 times last season to the tune of the 4th-highest horizontal movement among curves thrown 100+ times. It was a pitch that Stroman all but abandoned late in the year, throwing it just 12 times after July 1.
Despite the low usage, Stroman’s curveball produced the 9th-highest value/100 at 1.33 in 2017, 18th-most overall. His slider was 17th, and 23rd per 100.
If Bauer can replicate the horizontal movement of two of the nastiest pitches in the game, he could have himself an absolute hammer of a put-away pitch.
Compare Kluber’s horizontal movement…
Bauer’s original cutter moved 1.1 inches with a 4.1 inch drop, while the pivot to a slider gave him an extra inch of run and 4 inches of depth.
While Kluber and Stroman sit around 86 mph on their breaking balls, Bauer’s cutter sat around 87.4 mph last season. However, when he transitioned to the slider, the velocity dropped to 84.4. Assume that will even out with better control.
Bauer turned in a brilliant second half not just by turning to a more concentrated 1-2 punch of fastball-curve, but also adjusting his third pitch to that slider. The belief is that you need three pitches to be a reliable starter, and an improvement in that area could unlock the next step for him.