UCLA’s Trevor Bauer takes a different approach to pitching
Have a No. 2 pencil handy.
A pitcher is in motion, coming forward at 5 mph before releasing a 90-mph fastball. The ball takes four seconds to travel the 60 feet 6 inches to home plate. At what point does the batter have to decide whether to swing?
FOR THE RECORD:
College baseball: An article about UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer in the Feb. 18 Sports section said it takes a 90 mph fastball four seconds to travel 60 feet, 6 inches to home plate. Four seconds is the approximate span from the time Bauer begins his pitching motion to when the ball reaches the plate. —
“About 30 feet into the flight of the ball,” UCLA junior pitcher Trevor Bauer says.
“So if you have multiple pitches that look the same, but do different things at different speeds, you will be extremely hard to hit.”
Bauer thinks about these things … often. This is a whiz kid, his theories and philosophies honed at a “baseball ranch” in Texas, where out-of-the-batter’s-box thinking is encouraged.
Just his kind of place.
Bauer designed his own workouts, four of them. He plays Hacky Sack with baseballs and does a hop-skip-and-jump power throw on his first warmup pitch before each inning. He and his dad once soaked baseballs in water because “we heard that Cuban kids threw coconuts to build arm strength.”
These ideas and actions have made Bauer two things: extremely effective, as his 12-3 record and nation-high 165 strikeouts demonstrated last season; and known to be, well, somewhat unusual.
“The team that drafts him will have to handle him differently,” UCLA Coach John Savage says.
UCLA catcher Steve Rodriguez warns, “When you first meet Trevor, it’s kind of a shocker.”
After watching Bauer strike out 13 Texas Christian batters in 100-degree heat at last year’s College World Series, ESPN analyst Kyle Peterson noted, “He’s a freak.”
All of which makes Bauer smile.
“Baseball is slow to accept new ideas,” says the computer mathematics major. “It has the feel of an old-timers’ game. I’m very high-tech-minded. When a new idea comes along, if I say, ‘Oh, this makes sense to me,’ then I go for it.”
Whatever works for Bauer, works.
His baseball cap, for example. It’s faded to the point where you have to take his word that it was once blue.
Bauer first wore it as a 17-year-old, when a national college baseball publication dubbed him freshman of the year only months after he decided to skip his senior season at Newhall Hart High.
“I don’t like caps that stick up at the corners,” Bauer says. “They make you look like a conductor.”
There may be better college pitchers — maybe even at UCLA, where Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 starter, is projected to be among the top couple of picks in the next pro draft. Cole’s fastball has been clocked at 100 mph.
But then there are these numbers: Cole, 15-12 record and 3.42 earned-run average in two seasons with the Bruins; Bauer, 21-6 record and 3.00 ERA in two seasons.
Bauer throws in the low 90s and has an arm that is plenty strong enough. “You’ll play long toss and he’ll start throwing foul pole to foul pole,” Rodriguez says. “You don’t see that kind of arm strength very often.”
Savage saw it when he came to watch Bauer pitch as a junior in high school. “It was as good a high school game as I have ever seen,” Savage recalls. “I think he struck out 16 or 17 batters. He was really advanced.”
That would be his last high school season. Bauer graduated the next December.
“I didn’t like high school and thought I was past it in some ways,” Bauer says.
Splitting time between the weekend rotation and the bullpen, Bauer was 9-3 with two saves as a freshman. Last season, he pitched a team high 131 1/3 innings and was 12-3.
Still, his actions sometimes left even those close to him shaking their heads.
“I was kind of ridiculed a bit for some of the things I did,” Bauer says. “I would work on my motion as I was walking across campus.… Even the guys on the team didn’t know what to make of me.”
Says Savage: “He’ll kick the ball off his knee, foot and shoulder for quite a while, playing Hacky Sack. He’ll juggle baseballs. I’ve never seen a guy with that innate feeling for handling the ball. He’s like Pete Maravich.”
Bauer is well aware of how others may perceive him.
“Sometimes I’ll do something just to have fun with it,” Bauer said. “Last season, four or five of us were talking in the clubhouse. I got up and did a handstand. After five to 10 seconds, I fell into the laundry basket. I got fined for that in the kangaroo court.”
Says Rodriguez: “Trevor gets fined by the court a lot.”
But Savage says, “He has a reason for everything he does and he has proved that it works.”
Bauer trains on his own, alternating four workouts. One day he will snake his way around cones working on agility, the next he might flip 200-pound tires to build strength. He throws medicine balls, weighted softballs and uses a chin-up ring — all designed to maximize explosiveness.
He has worked with pitching coaches since he was 10, but his talent crystallized at the Texas Baseball Ranch, north of Houston. Bauer first attended the school after his freshman year at Hart. He has returned every summer since.
“The ranch is kind of a think tank,” Bauer says. “You don’t just throw the baseball around down there.” It fed his mantra that, “I don’t do anything without knowing an explanation why I’m doing it.”
His habits raise eyebrows but not his earned-run average.
Bauer starts each inning by doing a crow-hop from behind the mound because “I’m going to throw the ball as hard as I can to get the feel for what that is like.”
Also, Bauer has been known to leave the mound and trot down to the bullpen and “literally fix a pitch between innings,” Savage says.
Of course, explaining himself occasionally earns him a playful, “Oh gosh, Bauer, shut up,” from exasperated teammates.
But his success speaks for him.
“I’m not different,” Bauer says. “I just look at things different.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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