Several weeks ago, I reached out to Cubs pitching prospect Max Bain wondering about his plans for creating content this offseason. After profiling him in the spring, I learned of his desire to “promote the humanity within the game,” and I wanted to see if he was still headed in that direction. Max had the idea for a podcast series focusing on the mental side of the minor league journey, and eventually, asked me and Chris MacLean (of the fantastic Turn A Pair podcast) to help him.
This episode 0 isn’t exactly a reflection of where the podcast is headed; this one was just the three of us talking for a long time about Max’s up-and-down 2021 season. In the future, we’re going to have Max’s teammates and opponents (Rio Gomez, Ryan Jensen, Burl Carraway, Nick Loftin, to name a few) join us to talk about what it’s like to succeed and fail while working to accomplish your dream. In conjunction with today’s release, I wanted to write a mini-profile at Max’s 2021 season, using some quotes from the podcast episode. Besides just hailing from a fascinating origin story into pro ball, Max is obviously extremely talented and someone with the stuff to break out in 2022.
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On April 25, Max Bain was told by the Cubs organization he had won a rotation spot with the High-A South Bend Cubs. For the Michigan-raised right-hander, the assignment meant being closer to friends and family, and it meant that the work he’d put in preparing for 2021 had led to quite an accomplishment during his first full Spring Training.
The next day, in his final start in Arizona, Bain pitched against the Low-A team for the San Francisco Giants. For two innings, things went really well, as they often had that month.
The two innings after this video was the first wake-up call that professional baseball offered. “I was going through their lineup a second time, and I wasn’t beating their hitters,” Max says in our podcast. “That was the start of, ‘oh shit, I need to be be more than a thrower.'”
The journey of Bain’s 2021 season is really the journey from thrower to pitcher, and the wake-up calls and lessons learned along the way. Watch the video above, and you’ll mostly see a fastball/curveball pitcher. There are some cutters mixed in there, but it was a pitch that Bain and the Cubs tossed out of his arsenal by the time summer came around. You’ll also see a hybrid wind-up delivery that’s now been relieved of its duty.
And then let’s fast forward to the pitcher who won the Cubs’ August Minor League Pitcher of the Month award. This version of the more-seasoned starter is throwing four pitches, with the changeup having emerged as the most effective secondary. Bain was a little better both in OPS-allowed and strikeout rate against left-handed hitters in 2021, and the per-pitch numbers show the best combination of inducing chase and in-zone whiffs.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 12, 2021
A slider has been brought in to combat right-handed hitters and was really good at the end of the season. The fastball might be more 93-96 than 94-98, but ever since abandoning the wind-up and pitching exclusively out of the stretch, the ball is going way closer to where Bain wants it. This gave him the confidence to throw the pitch into the zone when behind the count.
“When things started to get slightly out of hand [after a break on the Developmental List], I still relied on my stuff to get me out of situations. It wasn’t the complete panic mode I had been in in prior starts,” Bain said.
Max Bain was electric tonight! 🔥
6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER & 8 K’s. 💪🏼
— Cubs Zone ™️ (@CubsZone) September 4, 2021
This is pitching and mental development at work, but Bain knows that consistency is something you have to prove over time. He doesn’t shy away from mistakes and the honesty that he wasn’t always as good as he’s capable of in 2021. The 5.52 ERA is only slightly higher than the 5.14 FIP/5.23 xFIP, and all are mostly to blame on a 13.2% walk rate … and the propensity to let an inning spiral (which I think you see evidenced a bit in a 64.4 LOB%).
And maybe a bit can be blamed on the long ball:
In this attempt to build my personal brand, I’ve made an effort to not strictly post the good things that happen. The bad makes us human. More to come when I speak publicly on the mental struggles of ‘21.
For now, here are the nukes I gave up 💣
Let’s do this less in ‘22 🐻⚾️ pic.twitter.com/tu1JOJVnXW
— Max Bain (@mbain_38) October 14, 2021
When you start to look at 2022, the right-hander can give you something with every pitch he wants to be better at. The curveball needs the efficiency it had in 2020 with the velocity it had in 2021. The changeup needs to be fully integrated into his approach against right-handed hitters, too. The slider needs to continue its horizontal separation away from the curveball. And the fastball? No, it’s not just about 100 mph anymore.
“Throwing harder is always awesome, but I think now instead of raising the ceiling I would like to raise the floor.”