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Bauer's out-of-the-box mentality on life, baseball

Indians pitcher blends traditional lessons with new ideas
MLB.com @MLBastian

KENT, Wash. -- A white bucket sat on the back of the mound constructed inside Driveline Baseball's research facility, filled with baseballs of different weights and sizes. Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer stood within a metal grid fixed with high-speed cameras, detailing the list of drills he does daily during his offseason workouts at the complex outside Seattle.

Really, not much has changed over the years for Bauer.

KENT, Wash. -- A white bucket sat on the back of the mound constructed inside Driveline Baseball's research facility, filled with baseballs of different weights and sizes. Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer stood within a metal grid fixed with high-speed cameras, detailing the list of drills he does daily during his offseason workouts at the complex outside Seattle.

Really, not much has changed over the years for Bauer.

In his youth, Bauer would hook a bucket of baseballs to the handlebars of his bike and ride over to a park near his California home. Baseball practice was over. The workout with his pitching instructor was complete. Still, Bauer would find a fence -- when his dad was away in New Mexico for work, Bauer rarely had a throwing partner -- and repeatedly fire balls into the chain links. It was the beginning of what has essentially been a life-long science experiment.

"I didn't have any friends in high school. I didn't have any friends in grade school," Bauer said last Friday. "So, my parents, they raised me, one, to not be blindly allegiant to authority. They raised me to think for myself and also to just believe that I was working for something down the road that my peers weren't going to have, and that I'd be better off in life for it. Take the long-term approach."

That mindset, which Bauer said was instilled in him around the age of six, is what has powered his path to having a home in Cleveland's deep and talented rotation. Given his father Warren's background in engineering, Bauer was raised to question, test, evaluate and then question some more. Bauer views his body as a system and science as the key to unlocking that system's ability to turn an unathletic kid into a Major League pitcher.

That process is what led to Bauer being introduced to Kyle Boddy, who runs Driveline and has watched the facility and its approach to training gain momentum over the past several years. When Bauer first walked into the Driveline back in 2013, there was room for a mound, a squat rack, a handful of weights and a desk littered with tech equipment. Now, Boddy's complex has three buildings and is a constant hive of activity.

While Bauer gave a tour of the research space, there were workers placing sensors on another pitcher, prepping him for a digital scan that would break down his biomechanics. Other athletes tossed weighted balls into vertical boards, while another worked off a mound. Each pitch thrown churned out a slew of data -- velocity, spin rate, vertical and horizontal movement, for example -- which immediately flashed on a nearby tablet.

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Bauer's love of science really took hold during his freshman year at Hart High School, where he took a Newtonian physics class taught by Martin Kirby. That class sparked Bauer's intrigue in the various elements involved in making a baseball spin and move through the air. That continues to be Bauer's focus in the winter at Driveline, where he will stick pushpins in a ball in order to study how to manipulate its path to the catcher's glove.

"I feel like it's home away from home," Bauer said with a smile. "I feel like I'm able to be who I am, because this is all the stuff I do anyway. It's just nice to have like-minded people around, so that the ideas that I have or have considered, there's other ideas to bounce off that. So, the conversation and the research and stuff moves a lot quicker when there's more like-minded people around attacking the same problem from different angles."

That, really, is all Bauer has ever wanted, but his unique personality -- one that often includes unfiltered commentary -- has gotten him into trouble in the past. As a rookie, Bauer did not go along with everything the D-backs asked of him and he was deemed uncoachable and soon traded to the Indians. Even with Cleveland, Bauer and former pitching coach Mickey Callaway did not see eye to eye.

Video: CLE@SEA: Bauer strikes out Gordon

Bauer said he knows he has "ruined relationships" along the way, but the pitcher emphasized that his only wish is to hear the "why" when given instruction on approach or training. Throughout his life, the methods Bauer has adopted have been based on research and experimentation not only by himself, but from coaches and analysts that he has surrounded himself with since youth.

Put it this way: Bauer does not care what you think, but he is interested in hearing what you know.

Carl Willis, the Indians' new pitching coach, said he appreciates that mentality.

"I know he has different ideas. They aren't things that he just pulled out of the clouds. He does research," Willis said. "Some of those things, I'm learning. I told him: 'I want to learn. I want to talk to you about them, because I want to be able to understand.' But, at the same time, I said, 'I'm going to have ideas, things that I think could help you. Take them for what they're worth. I'm not pulling things out of the clouds, either.'"

The other thing that Bauer wants to make clear is that his every waking moment is dedicated to becoming the best pitcher possible, which he hopes is eventually the best pitcher in baseball.

Bauer does not binge TV shows. He has no interest in card games with teammates in the clubhouse. The idea of marriage makes him laugh. He has hobbies -- like building his own website or designing and constructing his own fleet of drones -- but those are aimed at keeping his mind sharp. He doesn't drink or smoke. To Bauer, everything else feels like wasted time that he could be spending honing his craft.

In December 2012, Bauer met Boddy at a conference in Texas and was blown away by the instructor's presentation on G sensors and gyroscopes. Part of Boddy's talk involved a discussion on high-speed cameras to break down pitching mechanics, which was something Bauer had already been using in his workouts. Bauer was having an issue with his cameras -- frames were being skipped -- and consulted Boddy to see if he could help.

Boddy suggested trying a different type of memory card and the problem was solved. From there, they began a partnership that started with Bauer overhauling his delivery early in his tenure with the Tribe. The next phase was focusing on command and velocity training with some unique methods. This past winter, Bauer concentrated on pitch development, using frame-by-frame analysis of Corey Kluber's slurve in order to develop a new slider.

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Why, following what was a career year, was Bauer so intent on adding a new pitch?

"I didn't win the Cy Young, so the season was a failure in my eyes," Bauer said. "That's the standard I hold myself to, is being the best pitcher in the league and the best pitcher in baseball. So, if I'm not that, then there's a reason I'm not that and I've got to go figure it out."

When Bauer was a kid, he and his dad would drill holes in baseballs and stuff fishing weights inside, creating weighted balls for his workouts. Weighted-ball use is now commonplace around baseball. During the spring, the Indians have stations set up around the fields for pitchers who incorporate that into their daily drills. There are more pitchers trying out the long, black shoulder tube that Bauer uses. Eyebrows no longer rise at the sight of a pitcher doing extreme long-toss.

What once was a spectacle is now acceptable.

"I've taken all the arrows in the back along the way, so it's been kind of a painful ride," Bauer said. "I still take some arrows on new stuff I'm trying to do. The command program that I developed three or four years ago, in three or four more years it's going to be mainstream and you'll see everybody doing it. But, I've been ridiculed for doing it."

That has never been an issue at Driveline, where Bauer is surrounded by people with similar views on baseball and how to push it forward through science.

"When I'm 50, I'm going to look back and say, 'I wish this stuff existed when I played," Bauer said. "But, what I don't want to do is find out what did exist when I played and I didn't apply it and I didn't use it. So, that's one of my motivations for trying to use all this stuff and be the one driving the research forward. At least I can know, hey, I exhausted every resource I had available to me."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Trevor Bauer