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August 18, 2011

Future Shock

The Next Freak?

by Kevin Goldstein

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Last week, I wrote about the head starts some of the early signees from the 2011 draft had gotten on their career. At this point, none of those early signers is under a bigger spotlight than Trevor Bauer, the third overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bauer, the highest-draft pick inked heading into deadline day, put his name on the dotted line during the last week in July, so by the time Monday night rolled around, he had already struck out 17 of the 39 batters he faced during three California League outings and then whiffed eight more over five shutout innings in his Double-A debut on Sunday. The plan, as publicly stated when he signed, was for Bauer to pitch somewhere around 30 innings after signing; he's already at 14, but questions about whether Bauer will pitch for the first-place Diamondbacks down the stretch have already started. More importantly, should he?

Make no mistake about it: Bauer is good. With a low- to mid-90s fastball, knee-buckling curve, and diving changeup, he has three plus pitches, and he'll even throw a solid slider on occasion to provide a different look to hitters. He throws strikes, he maintains his stuff deep into games, was the best pitcher in college baseball this spring, and has yet to be challenged as a pro. “It's always worked for him, and I think it always will,” said one National League scout. “I think he'd be fine in the big leagues, and he won't be afraid.”

There's little doubt Bauer can handle big-league hitters, but the length of Bauer's season, as well as his heavy workload at UCLA, should indicate to the Diamondbacks that while flags fly forever, it might not be worth risking the career of a potential ace. UCLA's baseball season began in February, with practices starting in January. That means that other than a six-week break between his final outing for the Bruins and his pro debut, Bauer has been pitching for eight months already, and to extend him into the playoffs could stretch that into the 10-month range, a risky endeavor for a 20-year-old.

Then, there is the workload itself. Bauer threw 136 2/3 innings this spring, and did it in just 16 starts. He averaged 8.5 innings per outing and failed to go the distance only six times.He threw nine frames in each of his last nine starts. Including his brief professional career, he's already at 150 innings, which would be at or above the normal workload expectation from a more mortal prospect of the same age.

Bauer's pitch counts are even more troubling. As big-league teams rarely push prospects past 100 in minor-league games, Bauer's college pitching lines look like something from the 1970s. Only four times in 2011 has a pitcher hit the 130-pitch mark in the majors, with Tim Lincecum's 133-pitch effort on May 21 being the high. Bauer matched or exceed the 133-pitch mark in half of his 16 starts, including a stretch of six in a row. He hit a high of 140 in a 10-1 win over Cal State Bakersfield; the game was already a guaranteed Bruin victory after an eight-run third.

There has been much made of Bauer's uniqueness as a prospect. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, he's not exactly the kind of traditional power body associated with such workloads, which has led to nearly unavoidable—yet unfair—comparisons to Lincecum. Bauer is a disciple of the long-tossing regimen as well as many in-between start exercises designed to build and maintain arm strength, and while it's worked so far, the book is far from closed on the effectiveness of his routines.

Bauer is good enough to compete for a rotation job next spring and give the Diamondbacks at least six years of star-level performances. That's 200 starts and 1200-plus innings with the always-necessary caveat that he remains injury-free. Yes, he just might be the next pitcher for whom workload really isn't an issue like Halladay or Lincecum or Sabathia, but finding that out right now isn't worth the potential payoff down the road.

Top 10 Pitch Counts in 2011

Rank

Pitcher

Date

Pitch Count

1

Tim Lincecum

5/21

133

2

Chris Carpenter

6/29

132

2

Justin Verlander

5/29

132

4

Roy Halladay

4/24

130

5

Justin Verlander

7/5

129

5

C.J. Wilson

6/16

129

7

Jered Weaver

6/14

128

7

Carlos Zambrano

6/10

128

7

Felix Hernandez

5/28

128

7

Jered Weaver

5/28

128

Bauer's Top 10 Pitch Counts in 2011

Rank

Date

Opponent

Pitch Count

1

5/14

Cal State Bakersfield

140

2

5/7

Oregon

136

3

4/22

Stanford

135

4

4/9

Washington State

134

4

4/16

Arizona

134

4

4/30

Oregon State

134

7

5/28

Arizona State

133

7

6/4

Fresno State

133

9

3/5

Nebraska

129

10

4/2

Washington

128

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

basejaw

Well said Kevin...the fact is that they don't know exactly what he is yet...not worth it.

Aug 18, 2011 09:25 AM
rating: 1
 
ttt

Did you read the article about him in Sports Illustrated?

Aug 18, 2011 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
larry

someone already mentioned the SI article. obviously, bauer himself would tell goldstein he's being ridiculous and parroting the tired - and, to him, discredited - theories about pitch counts, throwing, pitcher training and so on.

setting all that aside, is such a workload all that much different than what he's done before? obviously he's throwing in professional games, so that's an important difference right there. but i got the impression from the SI article that he's throwing all the time, and throwing a lot.

Aug 18, 2011 10:03 AM
rating: -1
 
randolph3030

"20-Year Old Athlete Believes He's Indestructible" - sounds like an Onion headline. I'd argue that very very very few 20-yr olds know anything about anything, ever.

Wasn't Will Carroll's injury nexus from 20-24? He hasn't even gotten to that dangerous period yet. It's a tough spot for the DBacks, they've got to properly manage his competitiveness as much as his physical exertions, I'd imagine.

Aug 19, 2011 05:57 AM
rating: 5
 
keeperleaguegm

Ouch

Aug 18, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 1
 
bkirkman

The NCAA really needs to institute pitch count limits. That is brutal.

Aug 18, 2011 11:42 AM
rating: 2
 
lesmash

Sorry, bkirkman, I totally disagree; the NCAA should not have pitch count limits. If a particular school and coach believes certain things because that's what their research tells them, then fine, those schools can put a ceiling on the number of pitches. Other schools may have different trainers and coaches who believe totally different things, and they can go with what their best practices indicate they should go with. But a blanket number would be a huge mistake.

Aug 18, 2011 11:52 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Kevin Goldstein
BP staff

I agree. They should not be mandated. Notice how fewer top pitchers come out of Rice lately? There's a reason for that.

Aug 18, 2011 12:10 PM
 
Benjamin Harris

Not to mention 90-some percent of the players in college ball will not have any sort of a professional career. Why bother saving their arms? For most players this IS their career.

Aug 18, 2011 13:44 PM
rating: 3
 
Infrancoeurgible

Even Jason Windsor cringed looking at those pitch counts.

Aug 18, 2011 12:06 PM
rating: 2
 
mymrbig

My take on the "unique prospect" theory for Bauer being able to sustain this workload - he's unique until he breaks. You never know how much a pitcher's arm can take, so you shouldn't push it.

Regarding your Rice comment, about 5 or 6 years ago Rice's head coach stopped letting guys throw as many pitches. I think 1 Rice pitcher in the last 5 or 6 years went over 110 pitches, and that was right about 120 (a complete game shutout thrown by Ryan Berry against Texas A&M in Minute Maid Park). So while your comment might have been true in the late 1990's and early 2000's, I don't think it is accurate. Moreover, Rice has a bunch of very talented pitchers right now (sophomores Austin Kubitza, John Simms, Connor Mason, and incoming freshman Jordan Stephens), so hopefully they can all maintain safe pitch counts while achieving high levels of success (like Kubitza did as a freshman).

Aug 18, 2011 13:10 PM
rating: 2
 
ostrowj1

I think KG's Rice comment meant to indicate that no good pitching prospect wanted to go to Rice (because of their past abuses). You could make the argument that it took several years of pitch counts before pitchers were willing to consider Rice again.

Aug 19, 2011 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
WoodyS

For anyone other than Bauer, this article would make sense, but it seems to me that Bauer's whole training philosophy is to prepare him to handle these workloads. If he can help the D-Backs, and he wants to pitch, I say let him!

Aug 19, 2011 06:44 AM
rating: -1
 
onegameref

Prior was supposed to be indestructable and robotic too and he had a pitchers power body. As a Cubs fan I wish he was but it turns out he wasn't. Maybe it was the training regimen he instituted before he turned pro but who really knows. Liners off the elbow don't help either but those first couple of seasons he looked like he would be a perennial CY candidate. I miss those days.

Aug 19, 2011 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
lewish

It is interesting, that Bauer's top 10 pitch counts more than equals the top 10 pitch counts in MLB yet any one MLB pitcher only had at most 2 top counts, if that makes sense... youth, it is hard to know too much without the mistakes of experience, yet...it will be fun to see how this pans out, but numbers wise it seems that Bauer already has a huge load on a young arm.

Aug 19, 2011 14:37 PM
rating: 0
 
saigonsam

This is somewhat off topic, but I was wondering if anyone knew what Stephen Stasburg's pitch counts were like at SDSU. I always imagined that if I had a son who had huge upside as a pitcher, I'd want him to go a school where the coach has the highest job security and enough accomplishments that they would not be tempted to destroy the arm of a 19 yr old kid. Tony Gwynn would fit that description perfectly.

Aug 21, 2011 01:01 AM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

The real question is why the hell did the UCLA coach unnecessarily allow Bauer to throw 140 pitches in a 10-1 blowout of a non-marquee opponent like CS-Bakersfield and why has that coach not been fired already by the AD?

During the mid-1990s at a prominent baseball program, I personally saw an arrogant college coach ruin a former first-round draft pick with virtually the same unnecessary overuse in routs of overmatched smaller schools.

Aug 21, 2011 01:06 AM
rating: 2
 
mymrbig

While I think Bauer's pitch counts were outrageous, inexplicable, and completely unnecessary, its worth noting that since college guys only pitch once a week, they do get an extra day or 2 off to recovery compared to pro pitchers.

Aug 22, 2011 07:54 AM
rating: 0
 
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