Pitching Angry with Trevor Bauer by Travis Sawchik September 6, 2017 With the spread throughout baseball of wearable technology — that is, devices like the Zephyr Bioharness which are capable of capturing all manner of physiological data — it’s tempting to consider everything that teams and players could possibly extract from the information that’s gathered. While such technology is currently used to monitor mostly fatigue and workload via calorie consumption — noted foodie Russell Martin employed the Bioharness in Pittsburgh to better understand how much he could eat without gaining weight — there are certainly other possible areas for innovation. Like, what more can we learn from heart rate in the midst of performance? Could we better understand performance under stress? How emotions influence play? Players aren’t robots. They don’t perform at the same level all the time, even within a given game. They don’t always operate at their peak level. And while there’s a quite a bit of evidence suggesting “clutch” players don’t exist, I do wonder whether certain types of players and personalities perform better in certain moments. I suspect some players channel emotion better than others. For example, is there something to the idea of some players operating with a “slow heartbeat,” or is that more myth and coach speak? Is it not ideal to perform emotionally? Can we monitor that? Are some athletes better performers when they’re angered? Can they reach another level of focus and performance? Or does it typically distract from execution? These questions have been difficult to answer objectively in the past. They remain difficult. I suspect, however, that somewhere in the data captured by radar tracking systems like Statcast and wearable technology like Bioharness, there are clues. And on Monday, Cleveland Indians starting pitcher and FanGraphs reader Trevor Bauer might have provided a small sample of data for us to study. In case you missed it, Avisail Garcia and Bauer had a moment in the fourth inning Monday. I don’t know if these players have a history, but you could understand why a pitcher might take exception to a hitter shouting back at him in the middle of an at-bat. Bauer responded by striking out Garcia with a couple of filthy breaking balls, part of his repertoire that’s helped him reach another level in the second half of the season. After posting a 6.00 ERA through May, Bauer has been one of the game’s better starting pitchers in the second half. After striking out Garcia, Bauer directed him back to the home dugout. It was good Labor Day theatre for those of us watching at home or in Chicago. Bauer offered his thoughts afterward to the Cleveland media corps: Avisail Garcia didn't like the pitches @BauerOutage was throwing him & let Trevor know. Bauer reminds Garcia the rules of the game ? pic.twitter.com/5LYuXgS04L — SportsTime Ohio (@SportsTimeOhio) September 4, 2017 And the transcript: Trevor Bauer on his exchange with Avisail Garcia in the fourth inning. pic.twitter.com/6za1bGyRnF — T.J. Zuppe (@TJZuppe) September 4, 2017 Beyond the verbal sparring, what interested me is how Bauer’s performance spiked — or, at least how his velocity spiked — after the altercation with Garcia. Of the six hardest pitches Bauer threw on Monday, one was recorded during that plate appearance with Garcia, two in the following plate appearance against Matt Davidson, and then three more against Garcia in his next at-bat, in the sixth. (Garcia walked in that plate appearance). Taking note of this was Driveline Baseball’s Kyle Boddy, who instructs Bauer in the offseason at his complex in Seattle, and probably knows and understands Bauer better than most in the baseball industry. There are some people you want to get in their heads. And some you don't. This is one example of the latter. pic.twitter.com/waaYLNyp0z — Kyle Boddy (@drivelinebases) September 4, 2017 Trevor's @brooksbaseball data from today. Anyone want to guess when he faced Avasail Garcia the 2nd and 3rd times? pic.twitter.com/ll3kxwpQii — Kyle Boddy (@drivelinebases) September 4, 2017 Bauer hit 98 mph after the exchange, which is roughly his peak velocity. Bauer said afterward that his “adrenaline” kicked in. While Bauer has found another level since leaning more and more on his breaking ball, he’s also been trying to reach greater velocity with his fastball, which he’s noted has been his least effective pitch. Perhaps Bauer is a player who performers better angry, and perhaps Monday was an example of that: he struck out nine over six-plus innings while conceding just one walk, three hits, and two runs. (Bauer’s pre-start entrance music is by Swedish heavy metal band Amon Amarth. Perhaps he’s trying to find emotion early in home starts.) Coaches generally advise against showing too much emotion — or, perhaps more accurately, against playing with too much emotion. Bauer’s teammate Corey Kluber, for example, is famous for an on-field demeanor that has earned him comparisons to a robot. But perhaps that’s all wrong for some athletes. Perhaps playing emotionally is how to get the best out of some performers. Remember don't show any emotions kiddos /s https://t.co/eZj4iwVNej — Ryan Parker (@RA_Parker) September 4, 2017 Hey, it works for this guy: Ok Scherzer is an absolute psycho pic.twitter.com/eID8qyBT2T — Ozzie (@OzzieStern) June 7, 2017 Bauer is already interested in the hard science of pitching, namely physics, and also the softer sciences of performance. From a piece on Bauer I wrote earlier this season for The Athletic: [Bauer] applies aspects of Nideffer’s attention model, developed by psychologist Robert Nideffer to analyze athletic behavior, to explain why he sometimes has trouble grasping traditional coaching. “People say the best way to throw a pitch down in the zone is to throw it down in the zone. I’m like ‘What?’ ” Bauer said. “I know [through] reading and studying that conscious thought is a huge detractor from performance. … A narrow-external focus is your best performance mindset. Narrow-internal is the worst. “Well trying to throw it down in the zone is a narrow external focus. OK, that makes sense to me. I have the best chance of executing that pitch [through narrow-external focus]. The worst chance I have is ‘OK, I have to move this way to execute this pitch.’ Things like that where I think about it differently than how people say it.” Where does pitching with emotion fit into that model? The softer-science elements of competition would seem to hold some answers, but so much remains unknown. Whether it’s documented by pitch-tracking or wearable technology, it’s interesting to see how performance corresponds to emotion during a performance and whether athletes channel that emotional effectively. Perhaps the lesson for opponents is not to make Trevor Bauer angry. Perhaps the lesson for Trevor Bauer is to find a way to pitch with heightened emotion more often. Or perhaps Monday was just evidence of how, over the course of one start, in the midst of a long season, how one player’s performance can respond to the stimuli of a verbal altercation on a particular afternoon. That’s still interesting at some level.