Bauer and Astros engage in Twitter spat

May 1st, 2018

Trevor Bauer didn't face the Astros on Tuesday. Not officially, anyway. With Bauer's Indians at home in Cleveland and the Astros at home in Houston, many miles separated the two. But the connective power of social media was on full display when Bauer and several members of the Astros got into a little bit of a Twitter spat over Bauer's suggestion that Houston's pitchers are doctoring baseballs to improve their spin rates.
It all started when Bauer weighed in on a question posed to Kyle Boddy -- founder of the Seattle-area player development program called Driveline Baseball that Bauer utilizes in the offseason -- about the increase in spin rates of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton since joining the Astros.

Bauer's response was a reference to something he had tweeted earlier this season about the impact of pine tar, and he claimed that he could add 400 rotations per minute to his fastball if he "didn't have morals" and posted a photo showing the effect an increase in spin rate can have on results.

Generally speaking, higher spin rate on a four-seam fastball leads to more swinging strikes as it allows the pitch to fight gravity more effectively and gives it the "rising fastball" effect.
Needless to say, Bauer's implications about pine tar created a sticky situation. First, there was this good-natured response from Lance McCullers Jr.:

Then came some sarcasm from Collin McHugh:

And finally there was this bit of crowing cloaked in comedy from Alex Bregman, who, intentionally or otherwise, did not bother to get Bauer's first name right:

There were plenty more responses and subtweets beyond what's listed here, but that was the gist of the Twitter tussle. At the root is Bauer's continued outspokenness without regard for ruffled feathers -- an approach that earns him many fans and many detractors. In the Indians' clubhouse, Bauer has found a generally supportive community that respects his individuality in the name of maximizing his performance potential. But Bauer's not-so-veiled accusation about the Astros online was a virtual step into another clubhouse altogether, and the Astros took issue with it.
"Honestly, I roll my eyes at it," manager AJ Hinch told reporters. "I do think people need to sweep their own front porch and deal with their own situations rather than throw accusations that are unfounded. I don't know if it's a personal vendetta or if he's got a problem with things. I know Twitter considers itself the police of the world. But in this situation, it's time to get to baseball. ... Our guys are pretty good. They don't deserve to be thrown under the bus like that."

Bregman and McCullers declined to comment to reporters on the situation.
To be clear, the spin rate increases for Verlander and Cole are real, with Cole -- who happens to be Bauer's former UCLA teammate -- seeing a jump of 169 rpm on his four-seamer since last year, which is second-highest among starting pitchers behind Milwaukee's Junior Guerra. McCullers is up 98 rpm, whereas Morton has actually seen a decrease in his average four-seam spin rate since coming to Houston in 2017: He was at 2,317 in 2016, 2,237 last year, and 2,255 this year.
In an MLB Network Radio appearance, Hinch took the opportunity posed by Bauer's tweets to praise the work pitching coach Brent Strom has done with Cole and to note how a decrease in two-seam usage has improved the feel for -- and spin rate of -- his four-seam. And Bauer did respond to a tweet from a fan praising Strom by saying, "I completely agree with this statement. Brent is the man. One of my all-time favorites."
This all serves as a nice precursor to a pair of series coming later in the month, when the Indians visit Houston from May 18-20, followed by the Astros heading to Cleveland May 24-27.