Is Trevor Bauer in trouble? That's the question on the minds of many baseball fans after it was reported that Major League Baseball is examining multiple baseballs for foreign substances from the Dodgers pitcher's recent outing in Oakland. For a few years now, the drone accident survivor has been rather vocal on the subject of foreign substances, namely pine tar, and as such now has a close connection on the topic. That being said, he is not a fan of this current investigation.
This all truly began back in 2018, when Bauer used his Twitter account to cause some controversy. A subtweet posted on May 1 of that year read as follows:
If only there was just a really quick way to increase spin rate. Like what if you could trade for a player knowing that you could bump his spin rate a couple hundred rpm overnight...imagine the steals you could get on the trade market! If only that existed...— Trevor Bauer (トレバー・バウアー) (@BauerOutage) May 1, 2018
Bauer claimed that the comment was "not about any one person or any one player or organization, coaching staff," in an interview with Sporting News a little over a week after sending that tweet. In that same conversation, he noted that the use of foreign substances was "pretty widespread," and likened it to 1990s steroid use in that everyone was using it, before revealing that he himself had researched the effect that sticky substances had on increasing spin rates. His results were that they led to an increase.
But even if he never outright said, "The Astros are cheating" -- and not in the way you're probably thinking of right now -- the larger context was about the Astros pitching core and their increased spin rate. One day after he posted that original tweet, however, this happened.
Bauer's 4-seamer had a spin rate of 2,597 RPM in 1st inning of last start, compared to a 2,294 season average. Had "no comment" on whether he used a substance on the ball, but noted that his research shows a 200-300 RPM jump on higher-velocity pitches when a substance is used.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 2, 2018
Immediately, many wondered if Bauer was using foreign substances early in his outing to prove a point. Nobody knows for sure, given his lack of a comment, but it's worth noting that in the same press conference where that happened, he called for legalization of pitchers using foreign substances on the mound to help their spin rate.
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The 2019 season came and went without a whole lot of discussion on the topic from Bauer's end, but things picked up again shortly after MLB released the results of an investigation that showed the Astros were participating in the largest cheating scandal in modern baseball history -- one that involved using trash cans to signal to batters what pitch was coming next.
In mid-February of 2020, Bauer had an essay posted on The Players' Tribune titled "I Wish I'd Been Wrong." The title was in reference to how the truth of what the Astros offense was doing to cheat was worse than his accusations of their pitchers doctoring spin rates with foreign substances. That doesn't mean that the latter topic went untouched, though, as he wrote the following:
"I've been chasing spin rate since 2012. For eight years I've been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I'd identified it way back then as such a massive advantage. I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven't found any other way except using foreign substances."
Right after that was published, he wrote that MLB will never do anything about the foreign substance problem because, per Bauer's estimate, 70 percent of big league pitchers "use some sort of technically illegal substance on the ball."
He repeated that number on an episode of "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," but made sure to add that he doesn't use those substances because he has "morals."
While it wasn't outright said in his essay, it was implied that there's a moral failing with using them because the people who get affected the most by cheaters are those who, well, aren't doing the cheating. Jobs get unfairly lost, starting roles get taken away and even major awards are lost out on -- keep that last bit in mind.
Then one month later came a rather huge discovery from Ben Clemens of FanGraphs, who found that Bauer's spin rate in September 2019 spiked quite dramatically. Was it another "experiment" that lasted a bit longer than one inning this time? Well, it kicked off a trend that bled into July of 2020.
Remember that bit about awards I told you to keep in mind?
The league announced in late March new guidelines to crack down on foreign substances being used to doctor baseballs, and Bauer has now been caught up as a result. Why did this happen? Who knows. Perhaps it was the league taking all of the aforementioned context and putting two-and-two together. Perhaps it was even the fact that Bauer is the co-founder of a site that sells merchandise that reads "Legalize Pine Tar."
Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain: just as how it can be difficult to remove pine tar, or other sticky foreign substances, from one's hands, it's difficult to remove Trevor Bauer from the conversation about those very same substances being used in baseball because he has been talking about their advantages openly for years.