Prior to last night's game against the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona announced what we all expected -- Trevor Bauer will take over Carlos Carrasco's spot in the starting rotation. The move is the easiest to make, as Bauer is already an experienced starter and not entrenched in the bullpen as much as someone like Zach McAllister. With the move becoming official, it is now Bauer's chance to prove he deserves a starting role again, even after Carrasco returns in a few weeks. Can he do it?
When the Indians first told Bauer he was going to the bullpen, it did not sound like he was thrilled with the idea. And to be fair, who can blame him? The kid is a competitor, he has a big personality, and he wants to win. Those are all good qualities, but they can occasionally lead to some miscommunication with the media.
Indians have a lot riding on Trevor Bauer
If the Indians have any hope of recouping value from the Shin-Soo Choo trade, they need Trevor Bauer to figure it out soon.
Even before this season started, before Bauer was officially in the bullpen, I thought he needed to step up and prove he belonged. Even before he was replacing an injured star pitcher, the Indians had a lot riding on Trevor, but now they have even more riding on him.
To this point in his career, Bauer has not been a great starter. At the very least, he has not been the No. 2 starter the Indians thought they were getting when they traded Shin-Soo Choo prior to the 2013 season. Last season, in his second full season as a starter, Bauer finished with a 4.55 ERA, a 4.33 FIP, and a 10.6 walk rate in 31 games (30 starts). He was relegated to the bullpen at the end of the year, and that is where he sat until today.
This year, Bauer has worked 11.1 innings out of the bullpen (including filling in for Carrasco on Sunday) and allowed six earned runs, while striking out 14 opponents. It's still early, but already Bauer has shown an uptick in velocity compared to previous years. His fastball is sitting at around 95.2 mph, up from 93.7 last season and 95.0 the year before. A part of that probably comes from working out of the bullpen, which allows him to rear back and throw a lot harder in shorter bursts instead of needing to pace himself over a full game.
Some of that increased velocity could end up staying with him as a starter, however, as he spent a lot of time working with Driveline Baseball this offseason. The Washington-based pitching and velocity program helps pitchers of all ages increase their velocity, add bite to their sliders, and anything else that a fringe player may need to put him over the top. It is still yet to be seen what kind of effect this offseason routine has had on Bauer, but it is clear he has been working on it.
Another factor that could change Bauer's effectiveness in 2016 is pitch selection. Working out of the 'pen this season, he has only thrown a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a changeup, a curveball, and a cutter, according to Brook's Baseball. I say "only," but four pitches is impressive for just about any pitcher. Over the first few seasons of his career, Bauer was throwing upwards of seven pitches, including the occasional screwball.
Cutting out a few pitches, especially his slider, could do Bauer a lot of good. He has always been able to induce a fair number of swings and misses with his slider, but it is a pitcher that batters have no problem hitting, and hitting hard. Here's a breakdown of how batters have fared against Bauer's slider in recent seasons:
|Year||Sliders Thrown||Opp. AVG||Opp. SLG||Opp. ISO|
By eliminating his slider, Bauer is removing one of his most hittable pitches. if he can focus his attention on a better fastball, and a better changeup, we could see a more dominant starting pitcher than the one we have witnessed in the past few seasons. That, of course, would be great for the Indians.
It's all up to Bauer, though. I am not going to go as far as calling him a "headcase," but there appear to be some mental hurdles that Bauer needs to get over every game. He needs to work on getting out of jams better and avoid having one two-out hit turn into a rally every time something goes wrong. I look forward to him doing that and becoming a solid No. 4 starter for the Tribe after Carrasco returns healthy.
Even if Trevor is terrible, I cannot imagine this is the end of the road for him in Cleveland, but that time is rapidly approaching. But he is not going to get a better shot than this to cement himself in the rotation before it's too late.