Of the 623 hitters Trevor Bauer has faced in his eight-year Major League career, only one has taken him deep five times.
Not only does Twins right fielder Max Kepler stand alone on that list, but he dealt all that damage in two games at Progressive Field on June 6 and July 13 last season. In doing so, Kepler became the only player in the expansion era to hit homers off a single pitcher in five consecutive at-bats during a single season.
How does that happen?
"I don't know," said the notably succinct Kepler after his fifth homer. "Good question."
Fortunately for baseball fans interested in historic feats and player-driven analysis, Bauer released a 35-minute video on his YouTube channel, Breaking Point, on Wednesday in which he broke down, in great detail, the sequence of events and pitches involved in how he attacked Kepler throughout those two games.
Bauer begins the video two months before the first of the five homers, in his start at Target Field on March 30, through which he establishes his plan for attacking Kepler. According to Bauer, the gist of the scouting report against Kepler had been to mostly attack him with fastballs in the upper half and with offspeed pitches down and away.
"The only area you can't go is hard [down and in], and soft [in the upper half] and in the middle," Bauer said. "Anywhere else, you're OK. That was our report going into the season. Now, Max did a great job making some changes to his swing and to his approach to where he could cover those pitches."
Homer 1: June 6, top 1st
Bauer throws a first-pitch fastball before he goes to a changeup in the same location that he used for a strikeout in March. To Bauer's surprise, Kepler yanks it over the right-field wall.
"He's beat on this pitch," Bauer said. "He's early. You can see he's early. ... But he's able to keep the bat back and pushes his hands forward toward the mound, stays through it, and actually does a really good job of staying through this ball, even on a pitch that he's beat on."
Homer 2: June 6, top 3rd
The next homer came on a 1-2 slider, which Bauer tried to backdoor as a strikeout pitch, but instead ran over the heart of the plate -- but down in the zone, where he didn't expect Kepler to do damage with it.
"He usually rolls over this," Bauer said. "These are some of the adjustments he was able to make. Instead of whipping the barrel and rolling over [to the right side], he was able to turn the barrel and direct his hands. He's able to direct his energy more toward the mound this year. In 2019, he's able to stay through these pitches."
Homer 3: June 6, top 7th
In the following plate appearance, Bauer walked Kepler on five pitches -- all fastballs -- before he went after Kepler again with a first-pitch fastball in the next at-bat and missed into Kepler's wheelhouse.
"I know this guy's got two homers off me and I want to make sure I execute this pitch," Bauer said. "I'm trying to throw it with intent and I yank it down and in."
Kepler's trio of homers off Bauer helped him join Ted Williams as the only hitters in Major League history to have multiple three-homer games against Cleveland. What's more: He did it against three different pitches -- a changeup, curveball and fastball.
Homer 4: July 13, top 1st
One month later, more fastballs led to the same result -- Bauer yanked another pitch down and in, and Kepler took advantage for the fourth leadoff homer of his career.
"First hitter of the game, we're 2-0 and I say, 'I've got to throw a strike,'" Bauer said, aiming for the upper half of the zone. "What happens? Well, it ends up [down and in]."
Homer 5: July 13, top 2nd
At this point, Bauer said he was stymied by Kepler's ability to square up all of his mistake pitches and decided to turn to his best pitch -- the curveball. He misses on the outside edge.
"I missed, but all of our information says that if you get offspeed pitches to the [outer half], you're OK," Bauer said. "Because this is based on old Max Kepler, where his hip would [open up], his shoulder would go, and his hands would roll and the barrel would slice through, and this would be a weak ground ball to second base or to first base. Not what happens here."
Instead, Kepler stayed on the pitch and drove it out to right-center. He joined Carlos Delgado (2003-04, off Jorge Sosa) and Frank Howard (1963-64, off Bob Hendley) as the only players to hit five straight off a single pitcher.
Everything went out the window for Bauer after that. He attacked Kepler with a steady stream of cutters and finally got Kepler to swing through a changeup in the fourth inning for a strikeout to snap the inglorious streak.
"The last time I've seen pitch sequencing like this from Trevor was when he would face Victor Martinez, who he is/was deathly afraid of," wrote Driveline Baseball founder Kyle Boddy, a friend of Bauer, in a tweet. "Kepler may be the new face of obscure pitch sequencing for him. Should be fun to watch."
Now that the notoriously competitive Bauer is no longer on the receiving end of that kind of onslaught, he's found some appreciation of his place in history.
"One of the crazier events that I've ever been involved in on a big league field," Bauer said. "One of the crazier events, I think, that has ever happened in MLB history. ... Any time you can be part of one of those crazy stats, which, in 100 years of baseball, has not happened much, is kind of a cool thing, looking back on it."