Scouting the Mike Clevinger-Trevor Bauer Fantasy Matchup
Cleveland baseball’s odd couple was broken up at the 2019 trade deadline, as Trevor Bauer was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds, separating him from Mike Clevinger.
Two consummate teammates, the odd couple have a decent chance to face off against each other for the first time during the 2020 season. Cleveland plays a four-game home-and-home with Bauer’s Reds from August 3-6, starting with each team’s 11th game of the shortened-season.
The Reds have already tabbed Sonny Gray as their Opening Day starter, while Clevinger is likely to get the ball on July 25th for Cleveland after Shane Bieber starts the opener.
Without any off days before the four-game set, that would stagger Clevinger and Bauer’s starts away from a matchup. The 60-game schedule could affect each team’s rotation if one decides they would rather rotate a four- or six-man rotation to start the year.
Clevinger was recently asked about the potential of facing off against his friend in-game, and he says the circumstances would make for higher stakes.
“I’m more excited to have an empty stadium where he can hear everything I’m saying to him,” the right-hander said. “Now we’re going to have a battle. Now we’re going to see who is more mentally tough.
“I think we’re going to have to turn the mics off on the field for some of these matchups, I truly think so. You talk about people fighting for their life out there, and it’s not always the prettiest, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Clevinger has not had great success against Cincinnati. His .880 OPS allowed against the Reds is the second-highest versus an opponent he has faced three-or-more times. Joey Votto is 3-for-8 lifetime against Clevinger with two doubles and a homer, while Tucker Barnhart is 3-for-6 with a two-bagger, a homer, and two walks. Former Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas has logged a round-tripper against the righty as well.
Clevinger did win his last outing against Cincinnati on August 13, 2018, allowing two earned on five hits in five innings.
Bauer has much less tape against his potential foes. Outside of his seven years in Cleveland, Bauer has 14 starts with the Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, only one of which came against an American League team.
Among current Cleveland hitters, Bauer has faced five at least once: Delino DeShields (seven plate appearances), Cesar Hernandez, Jordan Luplow, Domingo Santana (three each), and Sandy Leon (one). Hernandez and DeShields have each doubled.
Fans did get some unofficial plate appearances between Bauer and a key piece of the Cleveland lineup during the shutdown:
Even during their Cleveland days, Bauer and José Ramírez bantered in the clubhouse about the day that they would get to face each other. Ramírez claimed he would take Bauer deep, while Bauer guaranteed a strikeout. Both may have happened during the untitled Momentum desert sessions, but whether or not Ramírez’s poke was an actual homer will remain a mystery.
Unless you ask José.
“Of course it was,” Ramírez told reporters via video conference last week. “Home run pitch. You know.”
In the desert sessions, Ramírez immediately asks Bauer what he is going to throw first pitch, “Fastball? You don’t throw hard enough.”
Ramírez is already guessing correctly. Bauer obliges with a fastball inside.
Ramírez then whiffs on a pitch on a high-and-in strike. He whiffs on another high pitch.
“Slider or cutter?” he asks. Bauer says it’s a cutter.
“Nice. That’s good,” Ramírez says.
Bauer misses on a slider high-and-away, but barely. After prophesying a 2-2 strikeout pitch, Bauer instead throws the home run pitch. Allegedly. The official outcome could remain a great question for generations, but Oakland Athletics pitcher Frankie Montas chimes in by saying the pitch went “500 feet.”
Momentum uses a side angle to show the pitch and ensuing shouting match, and the ball is impossible to pick up. Strategically, Bauer has not released the video to the public. That means no extra video for Ramírez. Only Bauer and maybe Ramírez know what it was that was thrown.
So how would that matchup go down in an official at-bat?
Ramírez stays under the ball about half of the time on cutters and sliders, and homers 14.3% of the time that happens (HR/(FB+LD)). Perhaps Bauer went to the well once too many, or maybe Ramírez orchestrated some chess mastery.
Three weeks into Bauer’s Reds career, his team had fallen 10 games back in the AL Central, and never got above fourth place in the division. He stopped using his curveball at the normal rate and subsequently upped his fastball usage.
Bauer’s success decreased a bit, but given the team’s position and their seeming belief in his/Driveline’s process, this was likely strategic. That can be said of anything Bauer does.
Whether he was working on his fastball, saving his arm from curveball usage, or showing as little as he could of his arsenal in a competitive window, likely, Bauer was just experimenting to a degree.
All of this to say that Bauer would likely resume his normal curveball usage, as he has often referred to his heater as his “worst pitch.” Bauer also spent time in the past few seasons adding secondary offspeed-pitches, resulting in a slider/cutter and a changeup.
Ramírez boasts career whiff/swing percentages of 21.3%, 20.6%, and 25.7% against sliders, changeups, and split-fingers in his career. Those numbers trend marginally higher since 2017.
Trying to fully predict what Bauer will do against any hitter would be an exercise in futility for a few reasons, but one against Ramírez is just a fun example. The pitcher-hitter showdown evolves quickly from pitch to pitch. Reactions from each side produce the next. Both are talented at the complicated dance.
Our best guess is that Bauer stays fastball-curve while mixing in the tertiary pitch if Ramírez starts leaning. Sounds pretty standard. If the desert sessions were edited chronologically, that is how Bauer approached things, and Ramírez found his pitch.
Hopefully, Major League Baseball will utilize the mics on the field like Momentum, and not shut them off as Clevinger joked. These interactions are golden, and lets personalities shine through.
Clevinger anticipates that the stakes will feel higher given the shortened season, as well.
“This is my opinion – this is going to be some of the most exciting baseball you’ve seen. You’ve got a 60-game race to the end, everybody is in it. This is going to be the time to watch baseball.”