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MLB

Trevor Bauer Is Not Cheating

Trevor Bauer of the Dodgers is inspected for sticky stuff.
Meg Oliphant/Getty

It’s screwy and irresponsible for Major League Baseball to stick cheater labels on pitchers based on flimsy, incomplete evidence. MLB, as an affiliation of the organizations that employ these guys, owes players some reasonable minimum of rigor and forbearance before announcing, or even implying, that they’ve broken the rules and violated the spirit of the sport.

Bloggers, on the other hand, have no such responsibilities. It is fine for bloggers to call anyone anything at all, at any time. Had I run this blog past Defector VP of Operations Jasper Wang, I feel confident he would’ve said yes, of course, by all means accuse a wealthy and vindictive famous person of cheating, based on nothing but a cursory scan of a chart you barely understand, compiled by strangers; that would be fine and in fact good. It’s out of respect for Jasper’s many serious responsibilities that I have made an informed decision to not burden him with such trivialities.

Purely for reasons of ethics in sticky-stuff journalism, I have made the decision all on my own to not accuse Dodgers pitcher and reigning National League Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer of being a big fat cheater. Bauer was gunk-checked twice during his start Monday night, including a rather sweet little palm-reading session by umpire Ángel Hernández, and was found to be slime-free. That’s the process MLB has established for preventing ball-doctoring and catching cheaters—umpires check the hats and gloves and assorted other nooks and crannies of pitchers coming off the mound—and here the process determined that Bauer was not using sticky stuff. This was Bauer’s second appearance since the start of goop-checks, back on June 21, and both times he was found to be clean. Therefore he is not cheating.

Since we can say with reasonable confidence that Bauer is not presently cheating, we must note that whatever extremely-not-cheating methods he used in 2020 to gain a whopping 400 rpm on his four-seam fastball and become baseball’s reigning Spin Lord, and which are largely responsible for him becoming the most dominant pitcher in baseball and winning that Cy Young award and getting a huge contract, seem to be faltering. For reasons that remain mysterious but for sure have nothing to do with the fact that Bauer was found to be slime-free during each of his two starts in baseball’s stop-and-frisk era, his spin rates are suddenly down and dropping from his year-to-date averages, per MLB’s Statcast service. Oh no!

An extremely accurate bar graph showing the decline in spin rates of Bauer's six pitches.Credit: Chris Thompson
Why does this graph go up to 6,000 RPM?

As you can see in this highly accurate bar graph churned out by the Defector Data Visualization Department, Bauer’s spin rates have declined across all six of his pitches, and with the exception of his slider they have declined steadily in each of his two starts since the launch of MLB’s new protocols. His four-seamer, which made the huge jump in the 2020 season and became the spinningest of its type in all of baseball, has lost almost 300 RPM! In what I’m sure is a perfectly innocent and meaningless coincidence, he is also suddenly throwing that fastball a lot less: where it had been by far his favorite pitch this season (40.5 percent of all pitches thrown), suddenly he is preferring his cutter and slider—in his start Monday Bauer threw just 14 four-seamers, out of 98 total pitches.

Of course Bauer is an obvious target for increased scrutiny because he made so much noise about how impossible it is for pitchers to increase their spin rates without foreign substances, and condemned the pitchers of the Houston Astros for not admitting to their own ball-doctoring regime, and then sneeringly denied his own use of sticky stuff while his spin rates spiked to unprecedented levels en route to capturing the most prestigious award for pitching in the sport. It may seem, therefore, like Bauer is being targeted as an implicit allegation of unearned success. Not so! What we have done today in fact is quite the opposite: We have cleared Bauer of any suspicion of cheating. The man simply is not using sticky stuff!

However I must urgently suggest, for the purposes of containing this ongoing slide in performance, that Bauer immediately resume whatever non-cheating, non-sticky stuff program he used to earn that Cy Young award last season. If his spin rates keep declining like this he will soon find himself at risk of becoming just a guy, and that would be truly unfortunate.

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