Bauer aims to become next master of delivery
Right-hander's approach to craft follows in footsteps of Lincecum
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If you grew up getting a kick out of the uniquely personal pitching deliveries crafted by the likes of Luis Tiant, Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale or Fernando Valenzuela, the horizon holds encouraging news.
The kids are bringing back rugged individualism with a baseball in their hands.
Unconventional thinker nonpareil Tim Lincecum is about to have some company in his campaign to prove that the cookie-cutter deliveries in vogue for several decades are not the end-all and be-all for the fine and demanding art of pitching.
A movement clearly is afoot, spawned in part, at least, by the innovative Lincecum.
A two-time National League Cy Young Award winner in San Francisco by the age of 25, Lincecum's independent approach to everything from highly creative training methods to a torque-driven delivery is actually taking the game back to its roots.
There was a time when original styles -- from Satchel Paige's windmill to Tiant's spinning gyrations to Fernando's closed eyes to the skies -- were embraced as natural wonders.
The movement is reaching down into a new crop of youthful pitchers blessed with technological tools previous generations couldn't have imagined, enabling them to validate in pictures what their instincts on the mound are informing them.
Nowhere is the value of an open mind more evident than in the exciting form of Trevor Bauer, busy launching with the D-backs what promises to be a memorable career.
At 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, hair cropped close, Bauer more closely resembles the mechanical engineering student he was at UCLA than Lincecum, with his flowing locks and hoodies.
Within 60 seconds of a handshake greeting, an interviewer is keenly aware that there is nothing at all average about this 21-year-old baseball player from Southern California.
With the calm clarity of a tenured professor, Bauer covers so much ground so swiftly and confidently, breaking down just about every conceivable aspect of pitching, he has you convinced he is functioning on a higher intellectual plane.
No offense to Major League pitching coaches, but they might be surprised by what they'd learn from a sit-down with this kid who has yet to make his big league debut.
Bauer takes you on a journey through scientific, medical and video fields, making emphatic and logical points with precise references that have you craving a dictionary.
He gets excited only when he mentions his "high-speed video camera, up to 1,000 frames a second," and how he was able to show "how pitches actually come off my hand" via YouTube.
"It's a game of explosive bursts of action," Bauer said, "and something like this helps you understand it better."
Growing up in the Los Angeles sprawl, Bauer realized early on that he couldn't hit, even though he was adept with the leather at shortstop. He took to the mound throwing fastballs, then changeups, expanding to curveballs at age 10.
A slider was brought into his repertoire during his junior year at Hart High School in Newhall, Calif. In rapid-fire order, along came the split-fingered fastball and variations on the breaking ball, including something he calls a "reverse slider" that has screwball action.
He uses all his secondary pitches to complement a fastball in the 93-98-mph range, having added velocity with natural growth as he's learned more about torque and lower-body thrust. A physics class in high school supplied vital technical material Bauer carried to the mound.
Another significant benefit in generating strength and endurance, Bauer believes, is a throwing program he has used since age 12, when he was introduced to long-toss advocate Alan Jaeger of Los Angeles. Angels co-ace Dan Haren has been a long-toss devotee for years under Jaeger, dating to his college days at Pepperdine.
"I'd throw two or three times a week -- getting as far as 300 feet, with a little crow hop," Haren said. "After it was over, you'd be about as tired as if you'd thrown a whole game. But over time, I felt really good, stretched out.
"I always do it before starts and two times between starts. I like the way I feel when I get on the mound after long toss, condensing 300 feet to 60 feet, six inches."
Bauer takes his long toss to jaw-dropping extremes, venturing as far as 380 feet. Grinning, Haren says, "I've heard about him, and I'm really looking forward to seeing him pitch."
At UCLA, Bauer resisted limiting pitch counts, surpassing 130 without apparent strain or physical fallout. His uncommon durability is rooted in his dedication to this highly specific training program he began developing in his mid-teens with the assistance of some savvy baseball people -- notably at Ron Wolforth's Texas Baseball School on a ranch in Montgomery, north of Houston.
Bauer visited the pitching ranch for the first time at 15 and remains a popular figure on campus, the pupil having evolved into a teacher. Just as Lincecum was a major influence on him, Bauer is finding that he is having an impact on dozens of kids who are being exposed to methods and concepts that won't tax them too heavily in their early stages of development. He stresses such fundamentals as always keeping the throwing elbow below the shoulder on release.
"I've been going down to the Texas Baseball School for seven years," Bauer said. "In the offseason, I get to run some camps. I get a lot of kids from the sixth grade to the 12th grade.
"Ron always asks kids who they've picked as a role model. That's how I discovered Lincecum when he came into the Majors at 5-foot-10, 160 pounds. He had my body type, and when I went online and found a two-hit, 18-strikeout complete game shutout he threw against UCLA at Washington [as a junior], I was sold.
"A lot of kids tell me they came to the camp because I went there, and they've picked me as a role model. Last time I was there, a kid named Max, 8 or 10 years old, told me he wanted to be like me. They're getting started early."
Bauer sees a "wave" forming, and he's proud to be at the forefront.
He's always been a little ahead of the curve. Bauer graduated high school a semester early to enroll at UCLA, replacing his senior year at Hart with his freshman year in the Pacific-10 Conference. The kid wanted to challenge himself at a higher level of competition.
By the time he'd finished carving up collegiate hitters for a third straight year, Bauer had almost a dozen different pitches in his bag, along with Baseball America's 2011 College Player of the Year award and USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award.
"You have to have a certain level of mastery over each pitch," he said. "I'll use all of them in game situations. Some days one is working, some days it's not. There have been a couple of days when they're all working; that's when it's really fun."
It looked like a lot of fun for Bauer in his Spring Training debut for the D-backs, when he put away all six hitters he faced in his first Cactus League start. He's due to take the mound again on Friday against the Mariners in Peoria.
As great as he was at UCLA, Bauer wasn't even the first Bruin taken in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Choosing first overall, the Pirates opted for Gerrit Cole, who resisted signing with the Yankees in 2008 as the 28th overall pick out of Orange (Calif.) High School.
Bauer was 34-8 with a 2.36 ERA at UCLA, setting NCAA Division I records in strikeouts in 2010-11. Cole had dominant stuff but was not as consistently effective. What Cole has is the classic body, at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and a conventional style. Hitting triple digits, he throws a little harder than Bauer.
The D-backs, with former pitchers Kevin Towers and Jerry Dipoto (now the Angels' general manager) calling the shots, loved everything about Bauer. They were happy to see him available at No. 3 after Seattle took lefty Danny Hultzen in what could turn out to be one of the best pitching Drafts in history.
Taken one pick after Bauer by Baltimore was Dylan Bundy, another workout warrior in the Lincecum movement.
Selected 10th overall in 2006, Lincecum shows visible satisfaction when someone recalls that his hometown Mariners passed him over in favor of Brandon Morrow. A bigger athlete with great stuff, Morrow retains exceptional promise but has been inconsistent. He now toils in Toronto.
"I still hear about that from people on the street -- shouting 'Brandon Morrow!' -- when I go back home," said Lincecum, who owns a 2010 World Series championship ring, along with his two Cy Young plaques after five seasons.
Lincecum has heard about Bauer and is flattered that these young arms are emerging in his image.
|"Everyone says throwing a baseball isn't a natural act. I've done a lot of studying on how to properly accelerate and decelerate an arm. I don't do a whole lot of weight training. I do explosive exercises, total-body exercises. My training is very specific to my needs."|
|-- Trevor Bauer|
Critics keep waiting for Lincecum's unorthodox delivery, training methods and undersized frame to take him down. Yet he has managed to become the second pitcher in history through five seasons to combine at least 1,000 innings, 1,100 strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 (2.98). The first was Tom Seaver.
"I have a feeling that'll always be a problem," Lincecum said of the persistent anticipation of his demise. "There are some believers -- probably more than ever. But there's always going to be doubters.
"I think it's pretty cool that young guys like this [Bauer] are kind of going at it my way."
Bauer's pitching studies never cease. He won't be getting back to mechanical engineering anytime soon.
"Everyone says throwing a baseball isn't a natural act," Bauer said. "I've done a lot of studying on how to properly accelerate and decelerate an arm. I don't do a whole lot of weight training. I do explosive exercises, total-body exercises. My training is very specific to my needs."
With a nod toward the personal influence of Lincecum, Bauer traces his evolution to those early days at Wolforth's academy for young arms.
"It all started after my freshman year of high school," Bauer recounts. "They teach mechanics that were reverting back to old-school mechanics and figured out how to throw hard by using your body in the most advantageous way."
Wolforth presents a basic framework of how a delivery works, involving pelvis movement and generating velocity with your legs by creating tension in the legs and releasing it. How you chose to set it all in motion was up to you, Bauer was told.
"They gave me the outline," Bauer said, "and let me figure out everything in between that."
Initially, he was challenged.
"I had no idea what a pelvis even was," he said, grinning. "At my age, your motor skills are still developing."
Bauer doesn't struggle with anything for long. Figuring things out is in his DNA. His father, Warren, is a chemical engineer.
As for the Lincecum influence, Bauer said, "I tried to emulate some of the things he did and fit myself into a similar approach. It wasn't like I was trying to copy everything he was doing. When he lifts his [left] leg, he squats on his back leg a little more. There are some similarities, but not with everything."
He has had guides, but Bauer clearly is his own man. The movement toward a rebirth of individual style on the mound is gathering momentum. That's what waves do.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.