Trevor Bauer, Reds ace and heavy-brained edgelord, told reporters after another pristine start Wednesday night that he has done enough this season to deserve the National League Cy Young award. And unlike the time he mangled his hand by carelessly handling a drone, he’s not wrong. By the standard metrics, Bauer should be the frontrunner: He leads NL pitchers in ERA and strikeouts, and is third in innings, and has nine quality starts in 11 appearances. But there is another metric that says that Bauer, long a critic of dirty rotten cheaters, may now be a dirty rotten cheater. Bauer, in his ninth major league season, is suddenly the God of Spin.
Bauer’s sudden jump in spin rate was noted by FanGraphs at the end of last season, when he gained something like 400 rpm on his fastball in the month of September. Not gradually! For most of his career his four-seamer hovered below 2300 rpm, with a modest increase into the 2400s in early 2019. Then whammo, the calendar flipped to September and all at once that heater was topping 2700 rpm and headed for 2800. That’s not a minor increase, not in absolute terms and not when compared to his peers: Bauer’s fastball went from average spin to literally the highest spin rate in all of baseball.
Those gains carried over into this season: Bauer’s fastball was at 2827 rpm in July despite losing nearly a mile per hour of average velocity from his peak in 2017. And Bauer’s active spin rate—the percentage of spin on his fastball that influences the ball’s break, as opposed to gyroscopic spin, which for the most part does not—is above 95 percent. These are not superficial gains! Bauer’s whiff rate on pitches in the strike zone is more than three percent higher than last year, and is the highest it’s been in the Statcast era.
You could spend your Thursday trying for yourself to figure out how much spin rate matters, and then trying to come up with other ways that Bauer could’ve gained so much spin without doctoring balls. Or! You could find a professional pitcher who is also a dedicated spin rate enthusiast, a hater of all cheating, and a noted confronter of uncomfortable truths, and rely on that person’s expert opinion. Thankfully, there is such a person, and his name is Trevor Bauer:
I’ve been chasing spin rate since 2012. For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage. I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.Trevor actual Bauer, in The Players’ Tribune
When Bauer sees “a guy go from being a good pitcher for one team and spinning the ball at 2,200 rpm, to spinning the ball at 2,600 or 2,700,” he says, as a self-proclaimed expert on the matter, he immediately knows “exactly what happened.” Furthermore, it is the opinion of this pitching expert—who, again, is Trevor Bauer of the Cincinnati Reds—that it’s pointless and insulting for anyone to pretend nothing is going on, as happened after Bauer accused Astros pitchers of ball-doctoring in 2018:
Right away, fans denounced me, and some players even made fun of me. But I was like, “You can’t deny that you’re doing that. It’s very obvious to everybody.”Trevor Bauer, The Players’ Tribune
Since professional expertise and deductive reasoning tell us that a player who jumps from 2300 rpm to over 2800 rpm must be using tacky substances to doctor balls, and since Bauer himself established that denials are absurd and wasted, let’s see what Bauer had to say when confronted by an Astros fan on Twitter about his ball-doctoring ways:
Oh right, as with all things having to do with Bauer, in order to get to the matter itself you have to wade through his extraordinary onlineness. What about the actual ball-doctoring, dammit!
Bauer is exactly the sort of guy to play semantics with this, isolating pine tar as a potential substance and then plausibly denying ever having used it to doctor baseballs.
It’s impossible to say with absolute certainty that anyone is applying foreign substances to balls without catching them in the act (unless you’re noted pitching and spin-rate expert Trevor Bauer), but Bauer has argued very passionately that the consequences of cheating are most acutely felt by those individuals who don’t take illegal advantages, either because they don’t know about them or are making a principled refusal to participate. Opportunities are unfairly usurped, accolades are denied, jobs are lost, career trajectories are permanently altered. The ripple effects of cheating, says Bauer, “spread throughout the league, to every park and to players at every position.”
Seems like positioning oneself as the frontrunner for the sport’s most prestigious pitching award by doctoring baseballs could have some significant ripples! Seems like pitching expert Trevor Bauer, who knows that spin gains cannot be won without foreign substances, and who insists that denials are pointless, and who has fashioned a public persona for himself as a bold and fearless truth-teller, would advise coming clean. One wonders whether Trevor Bauer the baseball player would agree.