Trevor Bauer is the free agent that has been talked about the most this offseason, but staying away from the biggest name out of the 2021 MLB Free Agents might be a wise choice. Bauer has drawn interest from plenty of teams, but he isn’t the best option, especially for the money that he’s asking for.
Reports that Bauer is looking for the highest AAV (average annual value) ever, breaking Gerrit Cole‘s record of 36 million a year. His case makes sense – he’s 29, coming off of a Cy Young season, and he’s extremely popular, bringing a lot of attention to the team he signs with.
Now, why wouldn’t a team want to sign a pitcher coming off of their first Cy Young award? Here’s some reasons why teams should avoid signing the 2021 MLB Free Agent ace, Trevor Bauer.
2021 MLB Free Agents: Trevor Bauer and His Tendencies
Trevor Bauer has had Cy Young caliber seasons in two of his past three seasons (2018 and 2020). His ERA from 2018-20 matches up well with Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg from 2017-19, who got the two biggest contracts for starting pitchers last December. Of course, on the surface level, Trevor Bauer looks like the best starting pitcher on the market and could be worth the $200M contract that he’s looking for.
First off, there is a massive caveat here – Bauer’s spin rate. In September 2019, Bauer’s spin rate increased by nearly 200-300 RPMs, consistently – in a week. Not to make any accusations, but usually the only way this happens is by using illegal substances. This FanGraphs blog gives a great explanation of this.
In 2020. Trevor Bauer’s spin rates spiked on all his pitches, except for his change-up. While increasing his spin rate by 350 RPMs, his average four-seam fastball velocity decreased by about 1 mph. His spin rate has been talked about a lot, and Bauer has even mentioned it himself on Twitter, denying the accusations. An increase in spin and decrease in velocity, increases his Bauer Units (spin rate/velocity).
His above average Bauer unit figure means that it is more productive for him to throw fastballs up in the zone. Even in 2019, when he had a lower Bauer Unit, Bauer was throwing plenty of high fastballs, which could be one explanation for his struggles. In 2020, when his spin rate miraculously increased, Bauer saw a lot more success.
In 2018, Bauer mentioned his 2250 RPM, which ballooned to 2776 in 2020. He even tweeted about how he could begin using pine tar (or other substances) to increase his RPMs by about 400 RPMs, which happened in 2020 – which coincidentally happened to be his contract year.
Of course, Bauer could always keep using the substances that he was using in late-2019 and this season. However, signing an inconsistent pitcher who may rely on cheating (while claiming he doesn’t), is very risky. Of course, we have to account for Bauer’s 2018 season, when he had a Cy Young caliber season prior to his increase in spin rate.
Trevor Bauer – Stats/Comparisons
Since Bauer’s 2017 season, he has thrown 637.2 innings and has a 3.46 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 3.61 SIERA and 21.9% K-BB%. These stats look solid, but don’t compare to the league’s elite. He also doesn’t quite compare to other players who are 2021 MLB Free Agents.
First, here’s his comparisons to Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg (2017-19), the AAV records that he is attempting to break. Also included are comparisons to Patrick Corbin and Yu Darvish, past starting pitchers who each received six-year contracts. in Corbin’s case, 2016 is left out of the three-year sample because he became a different pitcher, giving up fewer ground balls and increasing his strikeout rate. Darvish’s three-year sample is 2014-17 because he missed 2015 due to injury.
Last offseason (in a more lucrative market), Stephen Strasburg landed a seven-year, $245M contract to remain with the defending champion Washington Nationals. Last December, Cole signed the biggest contract for a pitcher of all-time at nine years, $324M. These are contract numbers that should be expected for the league’s elite, however, Bauer doesn’t quite stack up. Also, these pitchers were free agents prior to last season, and the market for Bauer, a 2021 MLB Free Agent, will be more limited.
His comparisons to Corbin and Darvish look more comparable, and they signed six-year contracts prior to 2019 and 2018, respectively. Bauer will likely see money closer to the $126M (Darvish) and $140M (Corbin) figures that those of Cole and Strasburg.
2021 MLB Free Agents – James Paxton
Another 2021 MLB Free Agent, James Paxton, is a better option than Trevor Bauer. There are risks with Paxton, as he saw a huge velo drop this season due to his injuries. However, since 2017, Paxton has a 3.68 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 3.48 xFIP, and 22.7 K-BB%. Paxton may not be the best target for a team like the Los Angeles Angels, who have a dire need for starting pitching, and Bauer is the safer option – if Paxton’s velocity is a concern.
Since being traded to New York, Paxton has a 4.16 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 20.7 K-BB% and 3.92 SIERA. As previously mentioned, Paxton’s injuries are a concern, but despite his struggles, he has been able to keep his strikeout rate high. Due to his struggles in 2020, Paxton won’t receive the same attention or money that he would’ve in the past. Taking a chance on Paxton on a one or two year contract with an annual value of about $12-15M a year would be a better way to spend your money, especially because it opens the door to signing another starting pitcher, like Chris Archer, Jose Quintana or Taijuan Walker.
2021 MLB Free Agents – Corey Kluber
The last 2021 MLB Free Agent alternative to Trevor Bauer that will be mentioned is Corey Kluber. Kluber reaches 2021 MLB free agent status following two seasons in which he pitched a total of 35.2 innings. Kluber has won two Cy Young Awards in his career (2014, 17) when he put up two 7.2 WAR seasons.
From 2013 to 2018, Corey Kluber threw 1238.2 innings and had a 2.96 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 2.96 xFIP, 22.5 K-BB%, 3.02 SIERA and 33.2 WAR. Kluber is also relatively risky, as he hasn’t pitched consistently since 2018. In his last healthy season, he was still pitching at an all-star, near Cy Young, caliber level.
Kluber is a great option for any team, especially those who are looking into a cheaper option than Bauer. However, Kluber is a better option than Bauer due to his much lower price-tag and minimal risk. Though he is a 2021 MLB Free Agent following two injury-riddled seasons, Kluber will likely sign a one or two year contract. There is often no risk with a one-year contract, as a team doesn’t get locked into a long-term deal that hinders the franchise. Teams who are looking for 2021 MLB free agent starting pitcher, Kluber will be cheaper than Bauer and could be the right option for any team who is looking into Trevor Bauer.
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