Is There Hope for Cleveland's Trevor Bauer?
From head case and knucklehead to future ace and hard worker, many words have been used to describe Trevor Bauer. The former first-round pick out of UCLA was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2011, and proceeded to tear up the minor leagues. But considered a head case due to his unorthodox workout and warmup techniques, Bauer was traded to the Cleveland Indians in the Shin-Soo Choo trade. And after a few rough season, he seems to be finally turning the corner.
A top-10 prospect according to Baseball America in 2011, Bauer was drafted for his excellent stuff, but has always had some control issues. With the Diamondbacks, Bauer had torn up the minors posting insane numbers as he flat out dominated hitters. In high-A ball, he struck out 17.00 per nine innings, in Double AA, he struck out 11.17 per nine innings, while walking 4.84 and in Triple AAA he posted a 2.85 ERA, 3.85 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) with 10.65 K/9 and 3.84 BB/9.
But in his major league debuts Bauer looked unimpressive, both with the Indians and the Diamondbacks. In four starts with the Diamondbacks, Bauer was lit up, allowing 13 runs, 11 earned in 16.1 innings pitched. While in four games in 2013 with the Indians, Bauer posted a 5.29 ERA, 7.05 FIP and 6.60 expected FIP (xFIP), based on a 10.5 percent fly ball rate, with 5.82 K/9, 8.47 BB/9 and 1.59 HR/9. And while these four starts were a very small sample size, many people wrote Bauer off, a young phenom who never would make it.
Bauer started this season in Triple AAA, but the Indians, desperate for pitching and with limited options, called him up in late May to give him another chance. And overall this season, he's pitched decent, not great, with a 4.18 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 4.05 xFIP along with 8.67 K/9 and 3.50 BB/9, but there are many tell tale signs that he's improving and possibly even turned the corner.
To start, Bauer's lowered his walks per nine inning as his gains better control of his arsenal of pitches. In limited appearances with the Diamondbacks and Indians, Bauer was walking over seven batters per game. In the minors, he was walking about four. This year, Bauer's walking just 3.50 per game. Further he's increased his strikeouts per nine innings from last season, up to 8.67 K/9 from 5.82 K/9.
Bauer's also giving up fewer home runs, 0.91 HR/9 compared to 1.59 HR/9 last year, which is still a bit much, but an improvement over the past few years. And his fly-ball percentage and HR/FB ratio have dropped as well, helping him to give up fewer long balls.
At the plate, batters are swinging at more of his pitches (his swing percentage is up to 46.6 percent from 37.4 percent), while making less contact (his contact percentage is down from 84.0 percent to 79.1 percent). And while his first pitch strike percentage is dwn, from 56.8 percent to 54.5 percent, his percentage of pitches in the strike zone is up, from 39.7 to 43.6 percent, and he's making batters miss, with a swinging strike percentage of 9.1 percent. He swing percentage, contact percentage and swinging strike percentage all would put him among the top 40 pitchers in these categories, if he had the innings to qualify.
Bauer's stuff has been pretty good this year, especially his curveball which has a 5.1 curveball runs above average (wCB), right up there with the top curveballs in the league, if he had the innings to qualify. Bauer's curveball would be among the top 10 in baseball, right up there with Yu Darvish's.
And there has been stretches of games where Bauer has looked absolutely dominant this year. After giving up five runs in the first against the Twins on August 19, Bauer then proceeded to retire the next 14 straight. But that's the thing about Bauer, there's been stretches he's been absolutely dominant, and others where he labors and struggles through innings. He hasn't quite put it all together yet.
Bauer's been great at times and horrible at others, sometimes within the same game. Looking at his splits, the first thing that jumps out is how much better Bauer is at home than on the road. At home Bauer is really quite good, but on the road, not so much.
Taking a look at his splits by inning, Bauer's also struggles in the first inning, but improves somewhat thereafter.
That's what makes him so interesting. Bauer's been so inconsistent, but when he's on, he's has the potential to be an ace, and when he's off, he's pretty bad. But it's safe to say that he's improving and as a young pitcher he'll continue to improve. Having only pitched 33.1 innings before this season, he's still technically a rookie.
Bauer's not the ace that many have projected him to be - not yet at least. But the talent is there. His stuff, at its best, is phenomenal and can be among the best in the league. He's not suddenly going to turn into an ace, but if he keeps improving and gains experience, all signs are that he'll get there. And when he does, he'll give the Indians, along with Corey Kluber, a great one-two punch at the top of their rotation for years to come.