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Buyer Beware?? Trevor Bauer

Written by: Danny Hacker
Follow him on Twitter: @theGREATdanny94
Follow Prospects Worldwide on Twitter: @ProspectsWorldW

Bauer and his agent Rachel Luba have been a consistent presence on social media despite not offering many, if any, hints at all about where he will sign ultimately. To this point, his career has been nothing short of intriguing.

Bauer was first called up in 2012 by the Arizona Diamondbacks before being shipped off that offseason to Cleveland in the Shin-Soo Choo (Reds)/Didi Gregorius (D’backs)/Matt Albers (Cleveland) three-team trade [side note: does anybody remember Drew Stubbs {also a part of the trade} stealing 110 bases between 2009-2012? I sure didn’t before looking it up]. Bauer then pitched 6 seasons in Cleveland before being shipped off in another three-team deal (that’s gotta be a unique group of players; off the top of my head, Steven Souza Jr also belongs to it.) in which sent him to the Reds, Taylor Trammell to the Padres and Yasiel Puig and others to Cleveland. With the Reds, he struggled hard in 2019 before completely dominating in 2020 in a historic fashion, winning the franchise’s first Cy Young in the process.

All that being said, why wouldn’t a team want to sign Trevor Bauer to a $30M+ AAV contract long term to front their rotation?

Well, and this is a pretty big deal, there’s quite the lack of a long consistent track record. Bauer has long struggled with his control/command since coming into the league, posting a 3.0+ BB/9 in every season as a pro except two; 2018 (2.9) & 2020 (2.1). As a result of the struggle with walks, his WHIP also has been inconsistent, sitting at 1.265 for his career so far. He also didn’t become a strikeout artist until 2017 posting below average K/9s in every season from 2012-2016. Once 2017 came, he made some key adjustments and blew the door off the wall, posting 10+ K/9s in every season since. When taking everything into consideration (the above plus his ERA, FIP, ERA+, etc), Bauer’s track record of great performance is only two seasons; 2018 and 2020. To a lot of teams, that can be pretty concerning. This type of case made me think of another pitching free agent two years ago with a very similar lack of a great track record with it being more recent; former teammate Patrick Corbin

Patrick Corbin was also called up in 2012 by the Diamondbacks after being acquired in the Dan Haren trade in 2010. When Bauer got dealt, Corbin threw a promising season in 2013 before having to miss two full seasons due to Tommy John Surgery. Corbin, then, was inconsistent in the four years before becoming a free agent after 2018. He eventually signed a 6 year, $140 Million dollar contract with the Nationals (a $24M AAV) and has pitched for them in the two seasons since.

So how does Trevor Bauer’s case look like Patrick Corbin’s? Look no further than their careers before Free Agency:

Patrick Corbin: 56-54, 3.91 ERA/3.65 FIP, 897 K (8.5 K/9), 271 BB (2.6 BB/9), 1.285 WHIP, 109 ERA+ in 945.2 IP (172 Appearances, 154 Starts)

Trevor Bauer: 75-64, 3.90 ERA/3.85 FIP, 1,279 K (9.7 K/9), 454 BB (3.4 BB/9), 1.265 WHIP, 113 ERA+ in 1,190 IP (205 Appearances, 195 Starts)

Yes there, of course, are some differences in the two (Bauer K’d more but walked more and visa versa for Corbin) but when it comes down to it, the two were basically the same pitcher during their careers prior to their free agencies. Corbin was a year younger (turned 29 in his first season with the Nationals) than Bauer is now (Bauer will turn 30 in his first year with a new team) but Bauer also has a Cy Young to his name where Corbin did not. From two years out, the two also share similarities in ERA+:

Patrick Corbin: 25-10, 3.58 ERA/3.25 FIP, 424 K (9.8 K/9), 109 BB (2.5 BB/9), 1.229 WHIP, 124 ERA+ in 389.2 IP (65 Starts, 1 Relief Appearance)

Trevor Bauer: 16-17, 3.78 ERA/3.96 FIP, 353 K (11.1 K/9), 99 BB (3.1 BB/9), 1.133 WHIP, 126 ERA+ in 286.0 IP (45 Starts)

So what does this mean for why I’m hesitant spending on Bauer? There are two reasons for this; Corbin’s performance pre/post-signing and Bauer’s desired cash amount.

You could argue that other than Bauer’s Cy Young and 41 starts, Patrick Corbin has been the better pitcher between the two of them to the point of their free agencies. As a reminder, Corbin signed a 6 year, $140 Million dollar deal with the Nationals at a $24M AAV. Since then, Corbin has sported a 3.60 ERA/3.65 FIP, 10.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.278 WHIP, and a 126 ERA+ in 267.2 IP (44 Starts). His first season with the Nationals was pretty normal Corbin performance before struggling hard last year. Whether that is a bi-product of 2020’s weirdness or not, it is potentially concerning. Corbin’s Savant in 2019 compared to 2018 (his last year of free agency) was a lot worse (Exit Velocity, Hard Hit %, Barrel % especially took a nose dive) and stayed there in 2020. 2021 will be especially telling if Corbin continues to struggle if he will remain that way throughout the contract or rebound.

Comparing that to Bauer, his savant also took big steps forward in 2020 (his last season before free agency). His 2019 looked a lot closer to his 2017 and average career than ’18 and ’20 did and could be a potential red flag moving forward. With his FIP higher than his ERA, Bauer has benefited from some slight luck over the last few seasons and could be in line for negative regression as he plays into a new deal. His Left on Base Percentage was nearly 10% higher than his career-high in 2020, his BABIP was .82 points less than it was in 2018 and his Exit Velocity numbers have quietly crept up back towards pre-2018 numbers (89 in those years, 87.8 in 2018, 88.7 in 2019, and 88.5 in 2020). Bauer’s xFIP for 2020 was also 3.25 versus his 1.73 ERA. In other words, there are quite a few signs of some serious negative regression. Bauer has reportedly asked for numbers in the $30M AAV range (Jon Heyman reported $36M-$40M AAV the other night) and would take “all sorts of deals” from long term to short term but all being in that same money range.

With word that the Los Angeles Angels are interested in signing him, I immediately thought of the past; a pitcher the Angels signed almost a decade ago this winter who was just like Bauer in the fashion of entering free agency with just two career elite seasons as a starter and a career full of inconsistencies otherwise. That would none other than CJ Wilson. CJ Wilson was a career reliever/closer for the Rangers, inconsistent and up and down, before absolutely thriving in the starter role for a two year stretch before free agency. The Angels would then sign him in the winter of 2011-2012 to a 5 year, $77.5 Million dollar contract (a $15.5M AAV).

Now to compare him to Bauer. Last Two Seasons before Free Agency:

Trevor Bauer: 16-17, 3.78 ERA/3.96 FIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, 1.133 WHIP, 126 ERA+ in 286.0 IP (45 Starts)

CJ Wilson: 31-15, 3.14 ERA/3.39 FIP, 7.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 7.4 H/9, 1.215 WHIP, 142 ERA+ in 427.1 IP (67 Starts)

Fascinating isn’t it? Now I realize it might not be fair to not include Bauer’s 2018 (due to Wilson starting only those two years) but for the fun, and intrigue, of it, Here’s both Three Seasons out from Free Agency:

Trevor Bauer: 3.18 ERA/3.38 FIP, 11.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 7.0 H/9, 1.116 WHIP, 144 ERA+ in 461.1 IP (72 Starts, 1 Relief Appearance)

CJ Wilson: 3.09 ERA/3.32 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 7.5 H/9, 1.232 WHIP, 145 ERA+ in 501.0 IP (67 Starts, 74 Relief Appearances)

Obviously, as the story goes, CJ Wilson wasn’t the guy the Angels were hoping for as he had a 3.87 ERA/3.95 FIP and a 96 ERA+ in 722.1 IP. So does mean Bauer is instantly doomed? Not necessarily at all but it’s an intriguing comparison, one that I really like a lot personally, due to the same short track record both players have/had when they entered free agency of elite success. Wilson was considered “ ace type starting pitcher” by then GM Jerry Dipoto much as Bauer is viewed in the same lense by many teams and GMs today. Despite inflation ($77.5M would equal $89.6M in 2020 which over 5 years is a $17.9M AAV) and how the pitching market has changed since then, it still takes a look at how a mega $30M AAV for Bauer feels like it can be a mess, an even worse one than Wilson’s was for the Angels (which for the record wasn’t horrendous but it didn’t live up to the money) due to their numbers.

Another interesting comparison for Bauer career-wise is one that has been shared before by many this offseason:

Stroman, as well documented, took the $18.9 Million dollar Qualifying Offer to rejoin the Mets in 2021 after sitting out all of 2020 and will re-enter free agency next offseason with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and others.

Again we look at the last two seasons prior to Free Agency:

Marcus Stroman: 4.05 ERA/3.79 FIP, 7.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 9.4 H/9, 1.367 WHIP, 107 ERA+ in 286.2 IP (52 Starts

Trevor Bauer: 16-17, 3.78 ERA/3.96 FIP, 11.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, 1.133 WHIP, 126 ERA+ in 286.0 IP (45 Starts)

When you look at that, you go “Danny you’re an idiot, that supports Bauer!” but take a closer look. Bauer’s ERA and Stroman’s FIP are a minuscule .001 off of each other while Bauer’s FIP and Stroman’s ERA are also a minuscule .09 off each other. Yes Bauer has, again, the strikeouts by a large margin but both share the same walk issues.

When you take a look at each’s lines three seasons out of Free Agency, now the Bauer margin grows:

Marcus Stroman: 3.65 ERA/3.83 FIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 9.2 H/9, 1.343 WHIP, 120 ERA+ in 487.2 IP (84 Starts)

Trevor Bauer: 3.18 ERA/3.38 FIP, 11.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 7.0 H/9, 1.116 WHIP, 144 ERA+ in 461.1 IP (72 Starts, 1 Relief Appearance)

What we see here is despite Bauer distancing himself from Stroman, they still have had very comparable careers to this point. Again Stroman took the $18.9M Qualifying Offer for a variety of reasons (missing ‘20 being one of them) and so that creates a floor of what Bauer should get. He obviously will not take it but it helps us further build the comp.

So if two pitchers comparable to Bauer sat in the roughly $19M-24M AAV range the last three offseasons, why should a team fork over $30+M for Bauer? Is it the belief he is a better pitcher than both despite the limited time at the top of the league? Is it because of Bauer’s brand that comes with him with all his bells, whistles and antics (I personally doubt it, I think a lot of teams feel the opposite about Bauer’s “brand”)? I think teams are rightfully concerned about Bauer as a long-term asset sustaining this type of ace production that they are quietly backing out of the race for him at $30+ Million dollars AAV so much that his absolutely absurd $36M-$40M AAV demand was leaked through Jon Heyman the other night to show how ridiculous the “race” Bauer’s camp is creating really is.

By using Patrick Corbin, CJ Wilson and Marcus Stroman (three very comparable players to Bauer), we see that Trevor Bauer could be dangerous overpay for a team long term if they sign him to a long term deal. A team going one to two years might be okay but anything longer could shape up to be a mess, especially if the signs showing Bauer’s regression are anything like Corbin’s and Wilson’s were. For me, I would go elsewhere on the trade market and avoid giving him so much money for essentially last season’s performance and a whole career otherwise.

Yes, I want teams to spend money, obviously, there is an issue with that in this sport, but I feel that Trevor Bauer is not worth completely the amount he is asking for despite a Cy Young award in very recent memory. Someone will sign him for a huge amount (I predict the Angels, ironically, at 5 years, $150 Million) but I do not think it will be as much of a slam dunk investment as many think due to the lack of a great track record and some signs showing potential serious negative regression.

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