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Lee Jenkins
August 15, 2011
Young power arms are the game's most valued currency, so what to make of the Diamondbacks' phenom who wants to change the way we think about pitchers' development? Front offices aren't so sure
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August 15, 2011

Trevor Bauer Will Not Be Babied

Young power arms are the game's most valued currency, so what to make of the Diamondbacks' phenom who wants to change the way we think about pitchers' development? Front offices aren't so sure

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Bauer is entering pro ball at an opportune time. Complete games are up for the fourth year in a row, from 112 in 2007 to 134 already this season. Several organizations, including Arizona, have reconsidered elements of their throwing program. The D-Backs were obviously drawn to Bauer because he can reach 97 miles per hour and command 10 different pitches, but they also view him as a catalyst for further examination of arm issues. "This is a chance for us to really explore what pitchers are capable of doing," says Jerry DiPoto, the club's senior vice president in charge of scouting and player development.

While the Diamondbacks negotiated Bauer's contract, he flew to Texas for a final summer at the Texas Baseball Ranch. Lounging in the barn one afternoon next to Chasey, a golden retriever--Labrador mix named for her pursuit of wild pitches, Bauer thought about a way he might treat himself when he officially becomes a multimillionaire. He is eyeing a video camera that can shoot 1,000 frames per second, which would allow him to study how each pitch is coming off his fingertips. He makes the camera sound as fun as a Ferrari, and far more essential. "Look, I'm not that big," says Bauer, who is 6'1", 185. "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."

Warren Bauer is a chemical engineer, and even though he didn't play much baseball as a boy, he taught his son to view pitching through a scientific prism. They read about Cubans who threw coconuts to build arm strength, so they soaked baseballs in water to make them heavier. They drove nails into softballs, a trick Nolan Ryan used to add weight. They sometimes hollowed out balls, shoving sand and fishing weights inside. "We wanted Trevor to learn how to throw the right way," Warren says. "We never imagined there was such a huge divide in how you go about doing that."

At age 10 Trevor took pitching classes in Valencia, Calif., with a family friend and former college pitcher named Jim Wagner. Wagner was a police officer in nearby Glendale at the time, and Bauer was his only client. Most of what Wagner taught came from an instructional video recorded by somebody else. "It was what everybody taught in the '90s," Wagner says. "Lift your knee, pause over the top of the rubber, keep your head straight, get your elbow up, put your foot down, glide out along the ground and finish in a fielding position. I guess that might have worked if [Trevor] were 6'4", 230. But [in high school] he was 5'10", 150. We needed to be more athletic, less robotic."

Wagner junked the video and encouraged Trevor to experiment. They pulled back his front hip, angling it toward the third base line and uncoiling it toward home plate like a slingshot. Warren made Velcro harnesses that Trevor wore around his chest to isolate the lower body. Radar-gun readings climbed. Wagner introduced Trevor to L.A. long-toss guru Alan Jaeger, who tutored one of the most durable pitchers in the big leagues, the Angels' Dan Haren. When Trevor was 12, Jaeger put him on an arm-care program similar to what physical therapists prescribe for pitchers rehabilitating from rotator-cuff surgery. Trevor had to perform six shoulder exercises with Thera-Band tubing strapped to his wrists before he could make a throw. But once he was warm, Jaeger urged him to let fly. Trevor would bike to a park near his house with a milk crate full of balls and hurl them 300 feet against an adjacent tennis court's fence before the pro ran him off.

On the recommendation of Wagner and Jaeger, Trevor fled every summer to East Texas, where he could long-toss until midnight, and often did. Ron Wolforth and his wife, Jill, opened the 20-acre Texas Baseball Ranch in 2003 to nurture young pitchers and channel ancients. "Back in the '40s and '50s, guys came up with their own motions, and they had more complete games with fewer injuries," says Wolforth, a former college baseball player and private pitching coach. "We interrupted the natural flow of Warren Spahns and Sandy Koufaxes and Bob Gibsons. We overinstructed the delivery."

Wolforth's pitchers do not work the land, the way old-timers did every off-season, but they do drag tires and pull 25-pound ropes, developing muscles that are integral to a full-body delivery. When Wolforth once ordered the pitchers to push a tractor across the ranch for 30 seconds, Bauer interrupted, saying that no play lasts that long. They should push harder, the youngster argued, for 12 seconds.

Bauer grew so comfortable at the ranch that he moved from the local motel into the Wolforth house, signed for mail delivered to the barn and started every day with high-minded questions such as: How do seams create spin? What is the effect of high finger pressure versus low pressure placed on a ball? When does a hitter have to commit? Wolforth once went to watch TV in the barn and found Bauer placing yellow dots all over the screen because he was mapping the plane of his pitches. Yet when Wolforth asked everyone to identify a historical pitcher with similar mechanics, someone they could pattern themselves after, Bauer struggled to pinpoint anybody.

Then, on March 31, 2006, on a 50° night in Seattle, a junior at Washington struck out 18 batters and threw a two-hit shutout against UCLA. Bauer called up the footage on a website. It was the first time he had seen Lincecum—the narrow frame, tilted head, the furious hip turn, the massive stride. "I watched it at 30 frames a second," Bauer says. "Before he gets to the top of his leg lift, his pelvis has been in motion six to eight frames toward the plate."

The next year, as a sophomore at Hart High School in Newhall, Calif., Bauer took physics and applied the lessons to what he had seem Lincecum do. "It started making sense why he did what he did," Bauer says, standing to demonstrate. "The more you delay your hip and shoulder from opening up, as long as you're moving toward home, you're shortening the distance to the plate and adding tension to the body, stretching the elastic band. If you fire your back hip and keep the front side of your body closed, you get more torque. The more torque you get, the more impulse you will get when you release."

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