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Trevor Bauer had his best season yet in 2017

Could Trevor Bauer finally be turning into the ace that we thought he’d be?

MLB: Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

When Trevor Bauer came to the Cleveland Indians in December of 2012 as part of a 9-player, 3-team trade, expectations were high. The young pitcher was drafted 3rd overall by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011 out of UCLA and had already made his MLB debut. He had been compared to prime Tim Lincecum during his college years and was considered by many to be one of the best, if not the best, pitcher in the 2011 draft. However, once he got to Arizona, things weren’t clicking for Trevor and the pitching staff and it seemed as if a change of scenery was needed. Bauer found his way to Cleveland for the 2013 season, and while it hasn’t always been pretty, Trevor Bauer has continued to grow and develop into the ace-like pitcher that Tribe fans dreamed of when the trade was first announced.

New Pitch Repertoire

Trevor is a really intelligent dude. Whether evidenced by his major in mechanical engineering at UCLA, his love of drone building, or his work with Driveline Baseball, it’s safe to say that Trevor Bauer is always thinking about, analyzing, and deciphering data in order to gain any advantage he can. In baseball, that translated to having a large assortment of pitches to choose from. It didn’t always serve him well, however, as he would often struggle with command issues both out of the zone (walks) and inside the zone (baseballs get crushed). 2017 saw a trimmed down pitch usage from Bauer, and the results were positive; where Bauer may have relied on upwards of 8+ pitches before, he culled a good 3-4 from that list and sprinkled in an extra 1-2 every now and then. His main pitches in 2017 were his fourseam, sinker, curve, and cutter. His fastball has gained some velocity after a brief stint in the bullpen in past seasons, and his curveball continues to be one of the deadliest pitches in baseball (when it’s working). By focusing on a tighter pitch selection, Bauer excelled in 2017, striking out 196 batters (a career high) and walking just 60 (tied for a career low in a full season).

All I do is win, win, win

Pitcher wins are a dumb stat. Regardless, having a larger number is better than having a smaller number when it comes to wins, and Bauer was no slouch in that department in 2017. His teammates Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco each accounted for 18 wins apiece, but Bauer was only behind by one with 17 of his own. He was tied with the likes of Chris Sale and Zach Greinke and had more wins than some guy named Max Scherzer (who?). Clearly he’s the better pitcher, right? The point of this section is not necessarily to harp on Bauer’s win-loss total in 2017, but to show that he is putting together a consistency that he once did not have.

Let me put it this way. 2017 ALDS excluded, if you throw Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco out on the mound, you can be pretty sure that they are going to put the Indians in a chance to win that day’s game because they are so consistently excellent at their job. Trevor Bauer, while not quite at that same level just yet, took major steps in 2017 towards being that same consistent hand that the team can turn to when they need a win. He still needs to go a bit deeper into games (he’s averaging just over 5 and a half innings per start), but he was typically good during those starts. And he was consistent throughout the entire year. Look at his splits between the first and second half of the season:

He wasn’t a superstar, but he wasn’t awful. He was above average and trending upwards, which is exactly the spot where you want your promising 26 year old pitcher to be in.

Limiting the home run

If there was a negative for Trevor Bauer in 2017, it was his struggles with giving up the long ball. Trevor gave up 25 bombs in 2017, which is the most he’s given up in a season ever. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world (Rick Porcello gave up 38), but it is something to think about. Bauer gave up at least one home run in 19 of his 32 appearances this season and 5 of those 19 times included multiple home runs given up in the same game. This may be a result of having better command of his pitches and, instead of walking hitters, he’s putting pitches in the zone that sometimes get knocked out of the park. The home runs will have to be monitored in 2018, but if all else goes right, Bauer should hopefully see a decrease in those numbers as well.

ALDS: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The internet lost its collective mind when Tito announced that Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, would be pitching in Game 1 of the ALDS against the New York Yankees. After that game, Tito probably looked like this:

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Why? Because his plan worked. Bauer went 6.2 dominant innings over the bombers, allowing just 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out 8 batters. Cleveland went on to win 4-0 thanks in large part to Trevor Bauer’s incredible pitching. Remember that curveball I was talking about a few paragraphs up? It was the best I’ve ever seen it look in this game. The likes of Aaron Judge & Co. were no match for Bauer as he carved up their lineup and made them look helpless. Despite losing Game 3 in frustrating fashion, there was a lot of hope that Bauer would replicate his Game 1 success in Game 4 and send the Tribe to the ALCS.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Whatever was working for Bauer on October 5th did not seem to be working on October 9th in New York. Bauer couldn’t get out of the 2nd inning and gave up 4 runs in the process, which ultimately would be enough for the Yankees to tie the series and ultimately win in Game 5. HOWEVER. If you look at the box score from that game, you’ll see that the number in the “Earned Runs” column for Trevor Bauer is “0”. That’s because while game 1 brought us defensive gems such as this:

Game 4 brought plays such as this:

The 4 runs were not necessarily Bauer’s fault, but he was definitely not as sharp as he was in Game 1. I’m hesitant to pin this loss on Bauer, but he gave up six base runners in 1.2 innings (4 hits, 2 walks). Regardless of the defensive miscues, this trend would not be sustainable if the Indians had wanted to win this game.

2018 and Beyond

The first three slots in the Indians rotation are all but set with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and now Trevor Bauer. After spending some time in the bullpen, both Carrasco and Bauer have turned into incredible starting pitchers. For Trevor, 2018 will be another opportunity to take another step up. What will that mean? For me, I want Trevor to go deeper into games and hit the 200.0 IP mark in 2018. The Tribe bullpen has been taxed often, and while the bullpen is incredibly talented, you can only lean on it so much before it collapses. If we assume that the last two rotation spots will go to Mike Clevinger (4.5 innings/start in 2017) and Danny Salazar (4.48 innings/start in 2017), then the bullpen may be used extensively again. Any relief that Bauer can provide to the relief corps will be welcome. Bauer has the durability, the “stuff”, and the experience to become a front of the rotation starter. 2017 saw Bauer take more steps towards that goal; here’s to an even better 2018.