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Rich Get Richer: How Bauer Earned a Historic Contract with the Dodgers

By: Graham Bell

The decision has been made. Trevor Bauer is packing his bags and taking his talents to Chavez Ravine.

The leading free-agency option on the mound has finally chosen his destination, inking a reported three-year, $102-million deal with the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The agreement includes opt-out provisions after Year 1 and Year 2 of the contract.

His $40 million salary in 2021 and $45 million earnings in 2022 will become records for the highest single-season salaries. According to Spotrac, Bauer’s 2021 salary is currently more than the Baltimore Orioles ($39 million), Pittsburgh Pirates ($37 million) and Cleveland Indians ($36 million) have on the books as a whole.

Coming off an outstanding NL Cy Young-winning campaign, the 30-year-old right-hander’s decision to back himself over a string of one-year contracts proved fruitful for the Santa Clarita native and UCLA product.

But his story could have been very different just by winding the calendar back 24 months.

Trevor Bauer has landed a historic contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

Coming into the 2019 season, the then-Cleveland Indian was hoping to continue to prove himself as one of the game’s best pitchers, especially when it came to limiting the long ball.

Only Jacob deGrom allowed fewer home runs per nine innings among qualifying pitchers in 2018.

SeasonHR AllowedHR/9
201890.46
2019341.44

And while everyone struggling with the uptick in home runs the next season, juiced balls or not, Bauer’s struggles were evident, making his highlight of the year probably being traded out of Max Kepler’s division after he gave up five of his season-total 34 dingers to the Minnesota Twins star in successive at-bats.

Command+ measures a pitcher’s ability to hit his intended target, and it appeared Bauer’s issues in 2019 came from a spring-break love affair with his cutter.

Through April, it was the only pitch of his that performed above the league average of 100 and, in turn, brought him success with four wins and an ERA under 2.50.

Month, 2019Command+ (Cutter)ERA
March/April106.32.45
May87.05.50
June97.85.50
July85.14.54
August93.98.40
September89.74.10
Rest of Season91.35.06

However, his command began to decrease and by using the cutter 6% more than he did in 2018, the results also faltered. Having had an ERA of under 3.00 in every month the year before, the remainder of 2019 saw that number tick north of the line.

A mid-season trade to the Cincinnati Reds would have been a destabilizing factor, but with just one year left on his contract, Bauer needed to bounce back in 2020 if he was to earn a shot at a big-money deal.

The changes came instantly in his repertoire, surprisingly continuing to increase the usage of the cutter and fastball while moving away slightly from the curve and all but eradicating the changeup from his arsenal.

Pitch Type201820192020
Fastball42.142.347.8
Cutter9.516.119.8
Slider14.714.216.4
Curveball26.819.815.7
Changeup6.97.60.3

While this might not have been as effective in limiting the long ball (he allowed nine homers in 11 starts, equalling the amount he surrendered in 28 appearances in 2018), it did help Bauer hold opponents to an MLB-low .159 batting average while recording a 92 command+ (below league average but a decent number for him) across all his pitches.

He also led the league in hits allowed per nine innings (5.05) and had the second-best ERA (1.63), topped only by former teammate Shane Bieber.

When you are preparing to defend a first World Series crown in 32 years, picking up a reigning Cy Young winner is certainly a mood. Bauer’s talents are undoubted, but now the questions will come as to how we will fit into a winning locker room.

With some noisy neighbors down the coast in San Diego, the hope is that his performances on the mound will overshadow any talking – or tweeting – off it.

 

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