Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/17/14

Following Trevor Bauer‘s Tuesday start against Cincinnati — three innings, five walks, one hit (a home run) and three earned runs — the Diamondbacks returned their top prospect to the minor leagues. In four starts with Arizona this season, Bauer lasted just 16.1 innings. He struck out 17 but walked 13 and allowed two home runs. The result is an ERA of 6.06, a FIP of 5.15, and a deserved demotion back to Triple-A Reno.

Mike Newman saw Bauer pitch in Double-A and noted his well-documented tendency to throw his fastball up in the strike zone. Newman talked to a scout who mentioned this might be a problem:

Bauer will have outings where he looks like a young Kerry Wood and strikes out 15, but he’ll also be chased in the second on occasion as well. He just kind of throws the fastball up there. It also makes me wonder how he’ll fare a second time through the league.

Newman said he wasn’t swayed by seeing Bauer work up in the zone; apparently, his scout contact wasn’t either. And at least on the point of Bauer being chased early, they’ve been right — his starts have lasted 4, 3.1, 6 and 3 innings respectively. The problem hasn’t been leaving the fastball up in the zone, though. Instead, Bauer has routinely elevated above and beyond the strike zone. Observe, his fastballs in his four major league starts:

The pitches highlighted in green resulted in hits, with the stars representing run-scoring hits (including both home runs). Bauer threw plenty of pitches in the higher part of the strike zone and allowed a few hits there, but hitters had equal success when he tried to attack the lower part of the zone as well. His control over the horizontal part of the plate has been fine — nearly all of his pitches fall within half a foot of the strike zone horizontally.

Instead, the problem is an inability to keep the ball below the batters elbows, much less down in the strike zone. Bauer threw 69 fastballs above three feet out of 167 total. Of those 69, 37 were balls, four were called strikes and just three went for swinging strikes. Of the 98 fastballs he threw below three feet, he drew 32 called strikes against 25 balls.

Bauer made a fascinating tweet about his pitching style after his May 1st start at Double-A in which he allowed eight hits and five runs in 5.2 innings:

Closing thoughts on the night. I hate ground balls. The more strikeouts and fly balls I get the better

— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) May 2, 2012

Bauer had no trouble getting strikeouts on the major league level, and he allowed more balls in the air (24) than ground balls (20). Was he trying too hard to elevate and keep the ball off the ground in his time in Arizona this season? Either way, Bauer will need to find a way to execute his game plan while still keeping the ball at a reasonable height as it crosses home plate.

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