Trevor Bauer is an interesting character. He was the number three overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but his career in Arizona was short-lived as he was traded to Cleveland in a three-team deal that involved Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw and Drew Stubbs also going to Cleveland, the Reds getting Shin-Soo Choo and the Diamondbacks getting Didi Gregorius.
Looking back on that deal, everyone got something of value. Choo didn’t spend too much time in Cincinnati and Gregorius is of course now in New York with the Yankees, but those guys are still good players so the teams got something, even though Cleveland has benefited the most as Shaw was a reliable reliever for Cleveland until leaving this off season and they of course have Bauer still in the fold.
Bauer has always had good stuff. He has good velocity and throws a number of off-speed pitches that can leave opposing hitters off-balance.
Even with his pretty impressive repertoire, he came into this season having never finished with an ERA of sub-4.00 and he has never reached 200 innings, despite his seeming rubber arm. His endurance on the mound could be attributed to his unique warm-up routine, which he has adjusted over his time in Cleveland, but it’s still very unorthodox.
So with Bauer sitting here with a 2.25 ERA and leading the AL in innings at 159.2 and only being one strikeout behind Chris Sale for the AL lead, what has finally clicked for him?
He’s never been a guy that’s afraid of walking a base runner, and his propensity to go deep into counts during his career has caused him to have high pitch counts and thus, made him have to leave games earlier than he would like to.
With his much improved numbers, you would think a large part of that would be that he’s walking a lot less people, but that really isn’t the case.
In 31 starts last season, Bauer walked 60 hitters and since becoming a full-time member of the rotation in Cleveland, in 2014, he’s never had less than 60 walks. With him already at 56 walks this season it doesn’t appear that streak will stop, so what gives?
For starters, Bauer has done a very good job of getting lead-off hitters out. Hitters that are starting innings are hitting only .213, but even better, he’s only walked 10 lead-off hitters this season. The old adage is of course that a lead-off baserunner, especially one that gets on via walk, usually comes around to score. So despite him having pretty identical walk numbers to the rest of his career, his numbers against lead-off hitters have improved by a considerable amount this season.
In case you were wondering, he’s allowed lead-off hitters to hit .239 with a .300 on-base percentage during his career. Obviously, much better number this season in that department than his career numbers and the importance of that can’t be overstated. So, while yes he is walking about the same amount of batters, he is doing a much better job of getting lead-off hitters out, so basically the timing of his walks has been better.
Next, a big change is a pretty drastic drop in HR/9 innings allowed. For his career he is averaging exactly 1.0 HR/9 innings, but this year he’s down at 0.4. That may not seem huge, but when you average that out over the course of a full season, which is over 30 starts for Bauer on a 162-game average, that is a big swing. His previous career-low in this category was 0.9 (in 2014 and ’16).
This drop in allowing home runs has lead to him stranding a lot more runners and has made a lot of his walks this season less costly, because in the past he has walked a guy to start an inning and then maybe allowed a hit and then a home run and now he’s allowed three earned runs in just one inning, but this year he’s getting lead-off hitters out at a much better clip and even more importantly, keeping the ball in the ballpark.
If you want more confirmation on him stranding more baserunners, for his career he has stranded 73.6% of runners and this season that percentage is at a career-high 78.6%. Again, that doesn’t seem like a huge change, but averaging it out over a full season is a big deal.
With the way that offensive players attack the game now with it pretty much being home run, walk or strikeout, Bauer cutting down on allowing home runs significantly has played a huge part in his numbers taking a big jump this season.
Basically, Bauer has done a great job of taking advantage of the way hitters approach their at-bats in 2018 as he is striking out 31.3% of the batters that he’s faced, which is up about 7% over his career average.
The big drop-off in home runs points to one thing for Bauer and that is him throwing more quality strikes. Like I’ve already mentioned, he has a very impressive set of pitches with a mid-90s fastball and a pretty devastating curveball, that is his second-most used pitch and a slider that he has also relied on more this year than in the past.
If you think this is a fluke, the advanced stats will tell you that you’re wrong. His BABIP is .304, which is actually higher than his career total. In case you don’t know, BABIP is batting average on balls in play. This number for Bauer actually suggests that he might be getting a little unlucky and could be poised to finish with even better number if that drops.
Bauer’s FIP, which is fielding independent pitching, which converts the pitchers three true outcomes of a walk, strikeout or home run into an ERA-like number, is 2.36, which is barely higher than his ERA. This number is a good gauge on whether or not what a pitcher is doing is sustainable or if they are just getting lucky and this number clearly says Bauer isn’t getting lucky, he’s just reaching the potential everyone saw in him when he was the number three overall pick back in 2011.
Bauer has been a solid number four or five option for Cleveland for a few years now, but now he’s made it so the Indians don’t really have a starter that’s below a number three-level quality in their whole rotation, with two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger and the emergence of Shane Bieber, who is the only guy that might not be a top-three quality pitcher in a rotation, but has showed a lot of promise. This take off of Trevor Bauer has been very welcome as the Indians’ bullpen is not as good this season as it has been in recent years.
Bauer has two more years of arbitration before he can become a free agent, but he is in line for a nice raise through arbitration this winter and if he continues this in seasons going forward, he will make a lot of money once he’s able to hit the open market.