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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 heard the doomsday predictions about Lincecum, that his build was too slight and delivery too violent to avoid injury, so he searched for the red flags Wolforth taught him to recognize. Lincecum's throwing elbow didn't rise above his back shoulder. His throwing arm didn't sweep across his midsection. He used his entire body to generate velocity but decelerated his arm gradually. The motion was unorthodox yet unstrained. Bauer had discovered his model.

Lincecum was the friend he didn't have. In elementary school Bauer was teased by classmates because he wore baseball pants instead of jeans. In high school he was taunted by teammates because he carried a six-foot plastic shoulder tube that loosened his arm. Coaches called it Linus's blanket. "A lot of people don't want to be different," Bauer says. "And if they are, they hide it so no one holds it against them. But I didn't want to be at the mall at 10 p.m. I wanted to be at the park."

Bauer, who was 12--0 with a 0.79 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings as a junior, would have been drafted if he stayed at Hart for his senior year. But he was miserable there, and he learned from Jaeger that about 80% of pro organizations opposed long-toss programs like his. "I'd have just been some dumb high school kid," Bauer says. "But if I went to college and made a name for myself, maybe they'd see that it worked."

Bauer graduated early and enrolled at UCLA at the start of 2009, where his routine stayed the same, only he was not ostracized for it. He refused to lift weights because he felt they diminished his flexibility. He didn't run poles because he believed the distance compromised his explosiveness. His short-burst workouts with cones, ladders and hoses were just as demanding. "Good coaching," says UCLA head coach John Savage, "is allowing a guy like that to be himself." Bauer still carried his shoulder tube, and when an airline lost it on a road trip to Houston, he said he couldn't throw without it for fear of injury. The tube was recovered, and Warren made a PVC case to protect it.

When UCLA flew to Omaha last year for the College World Series, Bauer checked the case but carried on "Downright Filthy Pitching," a series of books written by Perry Husband, a former junior college coach who runs a baseball academy north of L.A. Husband has tracked millions of pitches in major league games and concluded that a 90-mile-per-hour pitch appears to a hitter roughly five miles per hour faster if it's on the inside corner and five miles per hour slower on the outside corner. Husband's theory, known as Effective Velocity, provided Bauer with the basis for his complex pitch sequences this season. When he returned from Omaha, he called Husband and asked him one question that Wolforth was never able to answer: When does a hitter have to commit? Husband calculated the point of no return at the 20-foot mark. Bauer was concerned that his pitches were traveling on different planes before they reached 20 feet—Husband calls the planes "tunnels"—and therefore weren't deceptive enough. He sent film of the pitches to Husband, whose advanced video system makes it possible to overlay them on the same screen and show how each one differs at 20 feet. Husband sent back the clips with a narration of his findings.

"I've talked to other pitchers about this, and they're like, 'O.K., great, thanks a lot,'" Husband says. "There are only a few people in the world like Trevor." Warren promptly assembled a six- by seven-foot metal grid so Trevor could practice throwing through the same tunnel.

In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis tells rookie pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, "Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club." Baseball has traditionally struggled with its intellectuals, dismissing them as quirky or zany. But in the three years Bauer spent in college, some of his beliefs came to be more accepted in pro ball. Ryan, now the Rangers' CEO and president, has pushed pitchers to work deeper into games, and in 2009, hired Jaeger as a consultant to develop a long-toss program for Rangers pitchers. The Twins, Angels and Padres met with Jaeger as well. The Diamondbacks brought him to their instructional league last fall. As this year's draft approached, Jaeger quizzed executives on Bauer's behalf and then relayed the good news: At least 50% of organizations were now open to his long-toss program.

General managers regarded this draft as one of the best ever for college pitchers, with UCLA boasting two candidates for the top spot: righthander Gerrit Cole, 6'4", 220, with a classic delivery and a triple-digit fastball; and Bauer, three inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter, hurtling his body toward home plate like Lincecum with a buzz cut. Scouts were torn all season. Many pegged Cole as the safer choice but predicted Bauer would make the big leagues sooner. "If you try to change him, he won't sign," a scout said in April. "Or he'll be at the mall at 2 a.m. throwing 400 feet."

The Pirates chose Cole, the second time in three years a pitcher from Southern California went No. 1 overall.

Some scouts acknowledged that their bosses were put off by Bauer's flair—he wore a faded cap at UCLA, played hacky sack before games and listened to his iPod in the bullpen to enhance the rhythm of his delivery—but the Diamondbacks were enthralled. What others labeled quirky they called committed. When DiPoto met Bauer, the Arizona executive blurted out a line from statistician Bill James: "Oftentimes you measure a player's potential greatness by his uniqueness." Here was an organization that understood. DiPoto pitched in the majors from 1993 through 2000, long-tossing daily, even as coaches cautioned him, "You've only got so many bullets in that arm." DiPoto has studied the difference between high- and low-stress innings. He downplays simple pitch counts.

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