Trevor Bauer started the season as an American League Cy Young candidate.
He ended it wearing a Cincinnati Reds uniform and a 4.48 ERA, with his last act as a member of the Cleveland Indians chucking a ball over the center field wall at Kauffman Stadium. It was a bizarre season for Bauer, but a fitting end considering his tumultuous tenure with the Tribe.
The former first round draft pick was shipped to Cleveland in December 2012 after one season in Arizona, where he seemed to clash with pretty much everyone in the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse. Bauer spent the next five seasons searching for consistency before putting it all together in 2018 by ditching his two-seam fastball, improving the velocity on his four-seam fastball and sinker, and keeping hitters off balance with his slider and change-up. His season was shortened by a freak line drive that sidelined him with a stress fracture in his right fibula, but he finished the year with career bests in ERA (2.21), FIP (2.44), K/9 (11.34), and WAR (5.8).
The stage was set for a 2019 season to remember. And it was certainly memorable.
Bauer’s success from 2018 did not carry over, at least in terms of the effectiveness of his slider and cutter. The velocity of both pitches dropped. His slider sank from an average velocity of 82.6 mph in 2018 to 79.8 mph in 2019, and his cutter went from 87.2 mph in 2018 to 94.9 mph in 2019. As a result, opposing hitters were whiffing less on those pitches and making contact more. The swinging strike percentage on Bauer’s cutter went from 21.9% to 13.9%, and the xwOBA ticked up from .286 to .325. It was the same story for his slider, with the swinging strike percentage down from 21.1% to 18.2% and the xwOBA up from .141 to .224.
April represented a solid start to the season for the most part, but May was when the wheels started to come off the cart. In five of his six starts that month, Bauer was tagged for at least four runs. The Tribe lost all but one of his starts in the month of May, and even in that lone victory he gave up seven earned runs over five innings of work.
There was never any consistency from that point forward. When Bauer was on the mound, you didn’t know if he was going to pitch a shutout or give up five earned runs, but both were entirely within the realm of possibilities. It came to a head on July 28, when Bauer imploded against the Royals. The Indians held a 5-3 lead entering the fifth inning, that is until Bauer surrendered five runs (one of them unearned). When manager Terry Francona came out to pull Bauer, he proceeded to chuck the ball over the center field wall in frustration.
Two days later, Bauer was headed to Cincinnati in a trade that netted Yasiel Puig, Franmil Reyes, Logan Allen, minor league infielder Victor Nova, and and minor league pitcher Scott Moss. The change of scenery did nothing to improve Bauer’s season. In his first month with the Reds, Bauer made six starts and got torched for 28 earned runs over 30 innings pitched, giving up 38 hits and 13 walks. When he was in Cleveland, you could at least depend on Bauer to go five innings, but he only made it that far twice for Cincinnati during the month of August.
Not the kind of season you’d expect from an AL Cy Young candidate, but Bauer was at least worth enough by the trade deadline for the Indians’ front office to bring in a decent haul ahead of another arbitration hearing and the final year of his contract.
His Twitter antics will not be missed, but for all of his problematic personality quirks, there is no question that Bauer brought innovative thinking to the Indians’ clubhouse. Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber would certainly attest to the impact he has had on their performances. It’s just a shame that Bauer was only able to translate his unorthodox methods into undeniably great on-field results for one (albeit, injury-shortened) season with Cleveland.
But if you asked him, I’m sure he’d say he executed his pitches.