Pitching Angry with Trevor Bauer

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:

And the transcript:

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.



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.

Hey, it works for this guy:

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.





A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

newest oldest most voted
Fozzz
Member
Fozzz

Outspoken Trump supporter getting into it with a latino player? Shocking.

soddingjunkmail
Member
Member
soddingjunkmail

Make Pitchers Throw Fastballs Again

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

Or maybe it’s just two competitive human beings having a competitive moment.

If Bauer has a problem with latin american players he has a real big problem on his hands, seeing how his entire infield defense, parts of his outfield, and most of his offensive support is latin american.

On a typical Bauer start he finds himself supported by:

1B Carlos Santana
2B Jose Ramirez
SS Frankie Lindor
3B Gio Urshela/Yandy Diaz
C Yan Gomez/Roberto Perez
DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion

The outfield at times has featured Santana in RF, Eric Rodriguez in LF, and Abraham Almonte in CF.
Add in top prospect Francisco Mejia a big bat catcher in waiting and pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar and the Indians are one of the few teams that can field a top tier team solely from latin players.

Everything isn’t about politics.
Everything isn’t about ethnicity.

Sometimes it’s just baseball and boys being boys.

victorvran
Member
victorvran

Can we please just ignore these trolls and keep politics out of these comments. People who look for racism everywhere don’t actually care about logic, they’re gonna find racism in everything/everyone, even if they have to make it up.

Fozzz
Member
Fozzz

What point are you making? That someone who is an outspoken proponent of our white supremacist President is actually not racist because he has non-white teammates? Does that same logic apply to John Rocker?

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

You need it spelled out?
If Bauer had a racial issue with Garcia then he has a bigger problem in his own latin heavy team.
Whatever he may or not be, Bauer sounds smart enough to know which side his bread is buttered on. Unlike Rocker.
Baseball is about baseball.
Bring anything else between the lines and you’ll be shown the exit soon enough. Examples abound. The players police themselves.

Mark
Member
Member
Mark

I’m not going to pretend to know Bauer or Garcia’s opinions or attitudes on race, but it’s been noted before that the majority of recent (and perhaps historical) baseball brawls occur between players of different ethnic backgrounds, and often seem to be disputes over the “unwritten rules” and “playing the game right” and respect.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2015/09/30/mlb-bench-clearing-brawls-unwritten-rules-ethnic-backgrounds/73066892/#

The Bauer / Garcia dispute appears to check those two boxes. So again, I’m not going to claim overt racism, but I also don’t think the subtle racial prejudices that abound in our society should be overlooked.

That said, this was an article about performing while angry not performing while racist, and I still think Al Gore could’ve been president if he’d been less passive and the Mets might have won that World Series if Piazza had thrown the bat back…

Hatzis
Member
Hatzis

Mark, it’s certainly possible that some kind of racial aspects could be at play in this interaction.

I think though that there’s an obvious difference between the kind of celebratory flourishes that players from Korea or Latin America might add to a homer, and chirping at a pitcher while standing in or outside the box.

And if Bauer’s claims of what Garcia said are true, I don’t think that a player of a non-white background would take kindly to a batter chirping at him about not throwing fastballs. Maybe I’m wrong, but that would seem to be something that any pitcher would universally find annoying.

If anything, chirping at a pitcher and telling him how to do his job would seem to have more in common with the typical “American” player who chirps at a guy that stared at his homer and/or batflipped than the other way around.

tramps like us
Member
tramps like us

Fozzz-If a person’s personal filter is set for politics/racism, they will see politics/racism in benign events. Your filter is set as such. Life is often a Rorschach Test. Is that clear enough?

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

Oops! You were being serious. There are plenty of dives on the Internet for this hateful rhetoric. Please take it elsewhere.

emh1969
Member
emh1969

Two small corrections. It’s Yan Gomes, not Gomez. And it’s Erik Gonzalez, not Eric Rodriguez.

But otherwise a very good point.

fjtorres
Member
fjtorres

Thanks for the corrections.
Eric I braincramped on.
But Gomes I can safely blame on the tablet text auto-corruption function. It keeps turning itself on.

raws
Member
raws

Make America vespucci, again!

Failedstate
Member
Member
Failedstate

You are correct that Trevor Bauer is an outspoken Trump supporter; however, the MLB is a fairly conservative league and I bet many were/are Trump supporters. I don’t think his political leanings or deep seeded racism had anything to do with this one.

Failedstate
Member
Member
Failedstate

Although he doesn’t think Chief Wahoo is a racist logo and played the “all my Native American friends don’t think it’s racist logo” card, so….

Fozzz
Member
Fozzz

lol, I didn’t know about that. Certainly fits though. Imagine if the Indians’ logo were a caricature of any other ethnicity (for some reason Native Americans still seem to be fair game) and think about what kind of response those comments would receive.

EonADS
Member
EonADS

Frankly, what’s missing from this opinion is that Garcia yapped /first/ and Bauer barked back at him. Which, frankly? His reaction is exactly what you do to anyone who talks shit to you on the field. At least, it’s what you do without making a complete ass of yourself by throwing at someone’s head. His reaction is reasonable. Garcia complained, Bauer did the verbal equivalent of an eye-roll. Garcia did the nods like “hey, I’m on you!” and Bauer struck him out and snarked at him to get the last word. Sure, not the nicest thing in the world. But who’s actually that nice when you’re playing with a guy who’s already yapping at you? I sure as hell wasn’t when I played. Frankly, he wasn’t even that insulting. That sort of argument is the kind of thing you laugh off later, once the adrenaline dies off.

Bauer might be racist. I don’t know enough about him personally to judge. And I certainly have no love for his political stance. But claiming that he’s being racist /in this situation/, simply because he was less than kind to an opponent who was snarking at him is short-sighted and context-lacking.

Mark
Member
Member
Mark

I’m not going to pretend to know Bauer or Garcia’s opinions or attitudes on race, but it’s been noted before that the majority of recent (and perhaps historical) baseball brawls occur between players of different ethnic backgrounds, and often seem to be disputes over the “unwritten rules” and “playing the game right” and respect.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2015/09/30/mlb-bench-clearing-brawls-unwritten-rules-ethnic-backgrounds/73066892/#

The Bauer / Garcia dispute appears to check those two boxes. So again, I’m not going to claim overt racism, but I also don’t think the subtle racial prejudices that abound in our society should be overlooked.

That said, this was an article about performing while angry not performing while racist, and I still think Al Gore could’ve been president if he’d been less passive and the Mets might have won that World Series if Piazza had thrown the bat back…

LHPSU
Member
LHPSU

Let’s put it this way – if a black man took real shots at police with a gun, there’s no point claiming racism when the police shoots him to death, even if the officers in question are total racists with secret ambitions of wiping black people off the face of the earth.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

There is a future for you in writing headlines! Your only mistake was that you need to replace ‘shocking’ with ‘sad’.