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Trevor Bauer is the Indians’ most clutch pitcher

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Nobody else handled high tension situations like Bauer for the Indians last season.

MLB: Spring Training-Texas Rangers at Cleveland Indians Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Bauer’s 2017 was quite encouraging. Though the first half was a bit rocky, ditching his old cutter for a slower slider unlocked a post-break run including a 3.01 ERA, a point drop in his walk rate to 7.5 percent while his strikeout rate bounced nearly a point to 26.7 percent, all culminating in one amazing and one bad start in the ALDS. He was very good overall and gave us more than a glimpse of his full potential several times. In fact, in some ways — specifically during the most tense moments of a game — Bauer was by many measures the Indians’ best pitcher.

Usually when you think of high leverage pitchers on the Indians, the guys who handle the big moment best, Andrew Miller or Cody Allen, perhaps Corey Kluber come to mind. But based on FanGraphs’ Leverage Index, in those moments slated as high leverage — times when win expectancy can swing most mightily — Bauer outstrips them all in several metrics. Heck, he beats a bunch of assumed great relievers around baseball:

Bauer’s Rank in High Leverage Situations

Stat Bauer MLB Rank Pitchers trailing him(MLB Rank)
Stat Bauer MLB Rank Pitchers trailing him(MLB Rank)
FIP 1.52 5th Everyone not Jansen(1), McCullers(2), Kuhl(4), Kanle(3)
xFIP 2.65 9th Devenski(10), Hand (12), Miller(17)
wOBA .217 16th Devenski(25), Miller(30), Britton(42nd)
K% 30.1 30th Edwin Diaz(33), Roberto Osuna(43), Kuhl (47)
BB% 5.1 26th Hand(60), Miller(85), Britton(100)

Considering what he looked like even a year prior, this is an incredible leap for Bauer. For his career his high leverage numbers were dreadful:

Bauer High Leverage Performance pre-2017

Stat Rate
Stat Rate
FIP 4.24
xFIP 4.28
wOBA .319
K% 21.4
BB% 10.0

Eleven innings of work is all too small a sample to draw any real conclusions, but then again the 41 prior to 2017 are, too. It’s right to expect growth from any young pitcher, and after reading that interview Bauer did the other day one just has to expect him to get exponentially better each year. You could say this is him learning what works in the right situations, and pitching with his mind rather than merely throwing and trying to blow batters away. It’s not like he hasn’t had the practice with guys on base in the past. Prior to 2017 he had 122.1 innings of total work with runners in scoring position overall. Half a season’s worth of being a hit away from failure is a real crucible.

The numbers Bauer posted could be skewed with a couple bad instances. But for 2017, at least, they weren’t. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe just noise. It’s so much better than in the past you almost have to disbelieve it. But if there’s one thing about Bauer, it’s that you have to expect anything from him. He’s about as creative and forward-thinking as a baseball player can be about their craft. The idea that he cracked some kind of code on himself to make clutch situations more favorable to him, isn’t that outlandish. It’s just one more reason why the expectations are so high this year.