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What Should The D-backs Do About Trevor Bauer?

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PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 03:  Trevor Bauer #17 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on from the bench after being pulled from the game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field on July 3, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 03: Trevor Bauer #17 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on from the bench after being pulled from the game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field on July 3, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Getty Images

It's probably safe to say that Bauer's warm-up session for his next start on Sunday will not be viewed with quite the same rapt attention, or draw the sizeable crowd which gathered around the Diamondbacks bullpen session at Chase Field last night. The honeymoon for Trevor was a short-lived one, and the AZCentral trolls are sharpening their knives, after his home debut proved even less successful than his road one in Atlanta. In neither of his career starts has he pitched past the fourth inning, and in those 7.1 combined frames, he has a 9.82 ERA and a K:BB ratio of 7:7.

Where do he, and the Diamondbacks, go from here?

There really isn't much discussion about the problem. the same one which derailed his debut against the Braves: Bauer's inability to locate his off-speed pitches with any degree of consistency, in particular his curve. Said Miguel Montero, "He couldn't get his secondary stuff over the plate, so he fell behind. When he fell behind, he had to throw his fastball at some point and he got hit." The difference was apparent last night, in the first inning, where he struck out the Padres on 13 pitches...and the rest of the game. He bounced curveballs so often, we began to speculate in the stands, as to a possible English ancestry and predisposition to cricket.

He threw 17 curveballs last night: only five were strikes. That kind of ratio makes it very easy for hitters to lay off the pitch entirely. However, there seemed to be an issue with poor pitch selection. One wonders whether the barrage of spiked pitches being bounced off Miggy's chest led our catcher to become somewhat gun-shy of calling for curves. After the first inning, the Padres certainly seemed to know there would be a lot of first-pitch fastballs, and it wasn't difficult to work out. Here's what Bauer threw as a first pitch to all 21 batters he faced last night [thanks to Brooks Baseball for the data]:

Inn AB # Speed Type Result AB Result AB Pitches
1 1 92.3 FF Called Strike Strikeout 4
1 2 91.2 FF Called Strike Strikeout 5
1 3 91.2 FF Foul Strikeout 4
2 7 91.2 FF Called Strike Groundout 5
2 8 91.8 FF Ball Single 6
2 9 91.5 FF In play, run(s) Home Run 1
2 10 81 CH Foul Strikeout 8
2 11 85.1 SL Called Strike Walk 6
2 12 91.8 FF Ball Walk 8
2 13 86.5 SL Ball Flyout 2
3 18 83.5 SL In play, out(s) Flyout 1
3 19 90.7 FF Called Strike Groundout 6
3 20 82.8 CH Ball Walk 5
3 21 90.9 FF Called Strike Lineout 2
4 26 83.7 SL In play, out(s) Flyout 1
4 27 89.5 FF Called Strike Single 5
4 28 91.8 FF Foul Single 4
4 29 92.5 FF In play, run(s) Sac Bunt 1
4 30 83.8 SL Ball Walk 4
4 31 93.3 FF In play, run(s) Single 1
4 32 94 FF In play, run(s) Double 1

If you were the hitter and guessed :first-pitch fastball", you'd have been right two-thirds of the time, a huge advantage for any batter. There were five sliders, only two change-ups and no first-pitch curves at all. All seven runs Bauer allowed, came when San Diego hitters took the first pitch of their at-bat and put it in play. They were particularly aggressive in the disastrous fourth, swinging at five of the first seven pitches Bauer threw. Now, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with a first-pitch fastball, but the rate at which Trevor used them, and the fairly prosaic nature of that pitch (it averaged 92.5 mph), makes it a lot easier for the opposition.

Whether the pitch selection was down to Bauer or Montero is open to debate, with Montero reporting that Bauer shook him off "quite a few times" during the appearance - which seems a bit presumptuous given Montero led in major-league games played by a margin of 579-1 going into last night contest. Miggy seemed a tad peeved: "Part of me gets a little frustrated when a pitcher shakes me off. I don't mind when a pitcher shakes me off, but it's hard, you try to guide him. A guy like this, he probably doesn't know a whole lot of those guys and he just wants to go to his stuff. And I agree with that as long as they're good, quality pitches." Last night, they weren't.

It does also seem Bauer was rattled by his inability to field the sacrifice squeeze bunt in the fourth. His body language on the mound altered immediately, as he walked the next batter on four pitches, before the Padres ended his night with successive RBI hits - both coming on first-pitch fastballs. Bauer said afterward there was a psychological component, "Mentally, it was like, 'Oh, well, I missed with that pitch, now what do I do?' Instead of just thinking, 'The game situation calls for this, so I'm going to throw it.' It's a comfort thing. I have to get back to attacking hitters instead of going out there and pitching on the defensive."

The question is, what now? This was discussed a lot in last night's gameday thread, and I think comes down to three possibilities:
1) He stays in the rotation and figures it out here.
2) He and Patrick Corbin switch positions, with Bauer moving to long-relief in the 'pen.
3) He is sent back to Reno to refine control of his secondary pitches.

I can see pluses and minuses to all three options. On the one hand, his minor-league numbers were so good, it doesn't seem he is challenged there by the opposition: will he learn anything by destroying minor line-ups? On the other, the D-backs are still (technically) in a playoff hunt, five games back in the West, and can ill-afford many more games like last night, where they're basically out of it by the fourth. And, if Bauer continues to be shellacked like an antique cabinet, it's certainly possible there will be permanent psychological damage. If a starting pitcher has confidence in his stuff destroyed, it can be very hard to regain.

Based on the Diamondbacks stretching Corbin out for 4.1 innings last night, one wonders if the post-ASG rotation reported in yesterday's SnakeBytes, might be getting shaken up. Conveniently, over Bauer's two starts, he and Corbin have both ended up working the same number of innings, against the same line-ups, but with radically different results:
Bauer: 7.1 IP,. 11 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 7 BB, 7 K
Corbin: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1, BB, 9 K
Small sample size, obviously. But based on those, if you'd to guess who was the top prospect, it would be Corbin.

Obviously, two games aren't terminal with regard to a career. But if you look at the list of starting pitchers in the D-backs era who began with a pair of outings, four innings or less, where they allowed 8+ baserunners in each... It's not exactly encouraging. The other Diamondbacks on the list, for instance, are Casey Daigle and Kevin Mulvey, hardly the comps we want. However, if you want a glimmer of hope, look at this "first two starts" combined line:

5.1 IP, 17 H, 14 R, 12 ER, 5 BB, 7 K, 3 HR, 20,25 ERA
Those disastrous debuts, making Bauer's look brilliant, belong to a future Cy Young winner, Chris Carpenter.