Cincinnati Reds: Is Trevor Bauer worthy of number one money?

The 2021 MLB season is just a few months away from kicking off and reigning NL CY Young winner, Trevor Bauer, remains without a team and his sights firmly set on a top dollar contract.

Bauer, as we all know by now, has long been an outspoken force in the sport of baseball, and sports in general, but 2020 was a year in which he finally backed up his bravado. Not to say he’s someone who is always talking about how good he is and whatnot, but rather the energy he always exudes can be seen as off-putting to some if on-the-field results do not follow.

Is Trevor Bauer really worth that type of money?

Bauer cemented his polarizing character as “worth the risk” (so to speak) in 2020 after posting a 5-4 record with 100 strikeouts in 73 innings and an NL-leading 1.73 ERA and won the NL CY Young, rather easily in my opinion.

Performances like the one he put out in 2020 make guys like Bauer who love to talk a lot and break the status quo worth the headache in some degrees.

I have to give him the credit he deserves, though it’s long overdue. Going into 2020 when I put out my Reds prediction article, I was not a buyer of what Bauer was putting down and I thought that was going to ultimately hurt the Reds in the long run.

My problem with the Reds organization was that it had a lot of strong personalities and no cohesion. They got rid of Derek Dietrich, who was a guy I could clearly see steering that culture in a not-so-great direction, but Bauer was right up there.

With all the focus on the Astros sign stealing scandal and purposely tipping his pitches in Spring Training and all the trolling he was engaging in, I felt that this team was not ready to be a serious competitor, Bauer especially. His focus was off quite simply.

But even though the Reds (I feel) were a rather over-stated team in 2020, meaning I didn’t think they were as good as being advertised, and even though they choked in their series against the Braves with all those bats they paid for failing to produce a single run, Bauer was excellent in Game One.

He talked and he backed it up. I can’t do anything but tip my hat to him.

Now for the more important question, is Trevor Bauer now a bona fide number one worthy of Gerrit Cole/Jacob deGrom/Clayton Kershaw money?

My answer to that is no and that’s not because of his personality. My answer is no because even though he was awesome in 2020, 2020 was also not even half of a season. 60-games which translated to just 11 starts for Bauer does not in turn translate to him solidifying himself as an ace in this league. If that’s controversial, I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.

Bauer is looking to eclipse what Gerrit Cole was able to grab last offseason and the unfortunate reality is that at this point, he’s not in that same class…… least the class Cole was in before he signed with the Yankees. Cole’s 2019 was far and away better than Bauer’s 2020 and that shouldn’t be controversial. Cole’s body of work also cannot be touched by Bauer’s to this point.

Again, I don’t think that’s a crazy stance.

That could change in the very near future, and in a minute I’m going to tell you why I think it could. But for now, Bauer is not in that elite class of pitchers in the sport. He’s a 4.40 ERA guy for his entire career excluding 2020. Let’s also remember when he came to the Reds in the middle of 2019, he put up a 6.39 ERA and 4.85 FIP in 10 starts. And the fact that he turned it around for 11 games in an abbreviated 2020 season is not sufficient enough to warrant a record-breaking contract in my oh so humble opinion.

He was the best pitcher in the National League in 2020 and maybe even baseball overall, though Shane Bieber would probably fight you if you made that argument. But at the same time, even though Luis Castillo didn’t have a great 2020, I still believe he’s the best pitcher on that Reds staff including Bauer. Bauer and Sonny Gray are pretty close as well, but I think Gray actually has better stuff.

My point being, Bauer had the best 2020, but is he the best pitcher on the Reds? Castillo and Gray are better, though it’s close between Bauer and Gray for me. I feel as though if someone was to overpay for Bauer, they would be dipping their fingers in fool’s gold- not because Bauer’s 2020 performance was an aberration, but because there is simply not enough data to warrant such a big plunge.

That being said, my opinion on Trevor Bauer’s game to this point is very much subject to shift. I think he can very well be entering his real prime and we could see him develop into a top-tier starter in the next year or so if he lands in the right place and continues to do all the right things baseball-wise.

Bauer is (let’s face it) pretty annoying personality-wise and unorthodox in his physical preparation, but don’t let anybody tell you what he does to prepare his body and perfect his craft does not work.

People laughed at the intense long tosses when he first came into the league. People laughed at him firing the ball unnecessarily in his warm ups. People laughed at his extremely weird and awkward looking exercises. But data is becoming more and more a part of the game, and to this point, Bauer’s data is landing right up there with some of the best pitchers in the game today.

Spin rate is legit. I know the purists out there want nerds out of the game, but Bauer clocked in the best fastball spin rate in 2020 according to Baseball Savant and his curveball clocked in at the 92nd percentile of all qualifying pitchers. The more the ball spins, the more strikeouts you get, and Bauer is proving that.

The numbers say he’s in the 23rd percentile of velocity, but there’s no question his ball comes out a lot faster than people give him credit for. He averaged 94.5 mph in 2019 and 93.5 mph in 2020 on his fastball. That may not exactly blow you away compared to some of the other guys in baseball, but Bauer’s ball has zip to it that other guys in his class don’t have.

That’s because of spin rate making it appear faster than it is, and also because of his herky-jerky motion. I liken it to that of (ready for this obscure reference?) Julio Teheran, formerly of the Braves and Angels. Teheran is a guy who averages about 90 mph on his fastball, but his motion features a lot of moving parts makes the ball come out looking a lot faster. And if it looks faster than it clocks in on TV, then it probably does even more to the batter.

Bauer uses a lot of leg movement and lower body power to load up his velocity as well all know, so even though his velocity doesn’t appear spectacular on paper at the end of the day, it surely appears faster in real time. And mixed with his top-level spin rate, the strikeouts naturally rack up for him.

If Trevor Bauer can continue to get better and gain more consistency, he could very well find himself in the conversation of best pitchers in the game.

I don’t think he is right now after just 11 really good regular season starts, but I’m also not throwing him away as a mid-career flash in the pan. I think he needs a shorter contract at this moment to prove he can truly be a number one.

I love the fit in Los Angeles with the Angels. I feel he and Joe Maddon would mesh really well together, and a lot of people don’t give Maddon and Mickey Callaway for all they did this year in reshaping the Angels pitching staff. Yes, I know the results weren’t there on paper, but look at the turnaround of Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney was able to have flashes of brilliance in 2020 for quick examples.

The popular opinion out there is that the Angels are a mess pitching-wise, but I could not disagree more. I think they are on a really solid path. But that’s another topic for another day. Keep an eye on Trevor Bauer landing in LA.