Trevor Bauer came to the Dodgers with hype and baggage. How do his teammates feel?
Earlier this month, on a windy, sunny morning, Trevor Bauer emerged with a camera on the backfields at Camelback Ranch. He recorded Kenley Jansen, his regular catch partner, as they walked out together. Dodgers third base coach Dino Ebel made a cameo and waved for the lens. Then Bauer placed it on the ground for fielding drills.
The camera has been a regular companion for Bauer since he reported for his first camp as a Dodger. It was by his side during his first in-person, socially distanced scrum with reporters. He has used it to record short clips at his locker. Some footage appears on his YouTube channel. In one video, he criticized Major League Baseball for warning him about displaying his personal logo on his undershirt and belt during a start.
It’s just one detail that makes Bauer unique among his peers.
The Dodgers didn’t just sign the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner last month. They acquired a prolific content creator determined to build his brand, a headstrong pitcher at the forefront of baseball’s data revolution, and a player with a sometimes unsavory reputation who has thrown a baseball from the mound over the center-field wall in anger and drawn criticism for aggressive, even bullying, tweets.
The combination didn’t deter the Dodgers’ front office from making Bauer the highest-paid player in the majors this season. And, with less than two weeks until opening day, his teammates and manager have reported that Bauer has assimilated without a hitch.
“He's been one of the guys,” veteran pitcher David Price said. “He's been fine. Talks to everybody. He has a good personality. I've seen nothing wrong with Trev as a teammate or anything else.
“He's come in, he's been extremely personable with everybody, and he does his little things, I guess, differently, but I think a lot of pitchers do things differently, so I don't see anything wrong with it and I don't view him any differently than I view any of our other teammates.”
Bauer’s quirks are obvious the moment he takes the mound. He begins by warming up with a crow hop behind the mound. He grunts after almost every pitch. He busts out the Conor McGregor strut off the mound when he’s especially confident — even in Cactus League games.
This spring, he has thrown pitches with his right eye closed in at least two of his outings to recalibrate when his focus and delivery fall off track. He toyed with the San Diego Padres the first time and later gloated about it in a vlog. He wasn’t as smooth the next time when he plunked the Seattle Mariners' Ty France with a one-eyed curveball.
“I wouldn't feel too comfortable, to be quite honest,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said when asked how he would feel facing a pitcher throwing with one eye closed. “But I know that Trevor's done that numerous times. And it was a breaking ball. So I think that he has enough feel that I don’t think he was throwing fastballs. I don't know. But to your question, I wouldn't feel too great.”
After the start, Bauer said his right eye wasn’t focusing well, his legs were tired after incorporating sprints into his workout routine, and his head was swimming. Deep breaths and closing his eye, he said, helped.
“All just part of spring training, though,” Bauer said, “getting the body ready to go and getting ready for the season.”
In late February, the day before the first full-squad workout, Clayton Kershaw, a future Hall of Famer entering his 14th season, insisted he didn’t worry about Bauer fitting into the clubhouse. He said the team would let Bauer be himself. He looked forward to talking to Bauer about pitching and picking his brain the way he’s done with Walker Buehler in recent years.
“I talk to him. It’s fun,” Kershaw said two weeks later. “One thing I’ve noticed is he’s very competitive, which is good. I think some guys who are on the analytical side focus on that, but at the end of the day you have to get guys out. Good to see he knows that and believes that and has that competitive fire too.”
Bauer’s competitiveness was obvious when he met with reporters for the first time.
He shrugged off critics who point at his 3.90 career earned-run average and maintain he isn’t one of the best pitchers in the majors despite his success with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020.
He explained that he pitched with torn ankle ligaments for most of the 2019 season. He said the numbers from the middle of 2017 — when he discovered his slider and started throwing fewer fastballs — compare favorably with those of Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole. His 14.4 FanGraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) total from the start of 2017 through 2020 ranks ninth in the majors, just ahead of Strasburg and 3.1 behind the third-ranked Cole.
Bauer, 30, emphasized he could improve on his command, particularly on first pitches and with off-speed offerings. He emphasized he must throw harder than ever to keep pace with the MLB norm and believes he can tap into more velocity, pointing to New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom, 32, and Atlanta Braves right-hander Charlie Morton, 37, as examples of pitchers who did so after turning 30.
He wants to pitch every fourth day — not the standard fifth — but understands the Dodgers prefer more rest for their starters. He said he spends about an hour every day logging data and taking measurements. He collects 40 to 50 metrics of himself every day and employs a handful of people to help.
“We've gotten to the point where we're pretty good at predicting what's actually going to happen out on the field,” Bauer said, “just based on my measurements that day and a couple of days leading up to it.”
Those days usually include time with his camera too. It’s another facet of the Bauer experience, one the Dodgers anticipated. The club discussed parameters with Bauer before spring training. The Dodgers have welcomed what makes him different. In the end, it’s about whether he can help them repeat as champions.
“You know what you're getting,” right fielder Mookie Betts said. “He's got to be Trevor Bauer. You can't try and turn him into someone else.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.