For the first time in a long while, I am extremely excited about what starting pitcher Trevor Bauer can bring to the Indians table. If I ever had to make a bet for a Corey Kluber-like breakout performance for the 2015 Indians, I’d put my money on the 24-year-old starter.
I’m not saying or even slightly thinking that Bauer is going to win the 2015 Cy Young Award as Kluber did in 2014, but the third overall pick in the 2011 draft has improved greatly last season and has the ability to dominate—starting right now.
Bauer started his Major League career with a small taste while with the Diamondbacks in 2012. He struggled in four games to a 1-2 record and a 6.06 ERA and walked a staggering 7.2 batters per nine innings. After being traded to the Tribe that offseason, Bauer again posted a 1-2 record through four games with a 5.29 ERA as his walk total actually increased to 8.5/9 innings while his strikeout rate dropped from 9.4/9 to 5.8/9. Bauer was seen by many as uncoachable, a headcase, or a malcontent during his first stint in Cleveland and he was left off of the roster as the Tribe pushed toward the playoffs down the September stretch.
In 2014, Bauer may have come in with a different mindset, or maybe people seemed to care a whole lot less because he was getting good results. Bauer improved to post a somewhat deceiving 5-8 record in 2014 with a 4.18 ERA in 26 starts and 153.0 innings. His peripheral statistics all improved, as his strikeout total jumped back up to 8.4/9, his homeruns/9 fell by nearly a full homer to 0.9 and—most importantly—his walk total dropped back to a far-more-serviceable 3.5/9. The statistic was still the highest among Indians pitchers and could have been better, for sure, but Bauer’s season probably would have been better if it wasn’t for some bad luck that hit the young starter.
First, Bauer’s poorly dealt hand started with a lack of run support from an unsteady 2014 offensive attack, as per STATS LLC, Bauer had the ninth-worst run support in the American League among the 61 eligible pitchers. Secondly, Bauer’s 3.95 SIERA (Skill Interactive ERA) is significantly lower than his actual ERA, pointing to a porous Indians defense as a deterrent as well. SIERA is a statistic that essentially takes out all defensive factors and focuses solely on the pitcher’s performance.
All of this is not to say that there isn’t any room for improvement, although one must take into account that Bauer is just 24 and has just 34 Major League games under his belt. Last season, Bauer fired just 56.4% on first pitch strikes which placed him tied with Justin Masterson for last among the Indians regular starting pitchers. This percentage also places him below the league average of 60%. In addition to having a hard time settling into batters, Bauer also had a tough time settling into games by posting a 5.60 ERA during his first innings, as well.
To alleviate the issues that kept 2014 from meeting Bauer’s atypically high standards, the perfectionist Bauer spent the offseason studying high tech video and working six days per week on his delivery and mechanics. In addition, Bauer has also been working in a two-seam fastball to add to his already large repertoire of a four-seamer, cutter, split and curveball. Bauer showed off his new pitch and his new command already during his first spring outing last Thursday as he worked three innings, allowing just one unearned run against the Cincinnati Reds. He allowed three hits, but did not walk a batter and Bauer fired first pitch strikes on eight of 12 batters faced, a 67% rate that would have placed him second on the club behind only Josh Tomlin in 2014. One spring start is obviously far too small of a sample size, but it is a good step in the right direction for what has been Bauer’s Achilles Heel so far during his young career.
For the first time as a member of the Tribe, Bauer is guaranteed a spot in the starting rotation as the season commences in less than a month. For the first time, instead of fighting for a roster spot like he has the past two years, Bauer can put his meticulous, finicky mindset squarely on improving himself and his place on the team. For the first time, we as Cleveland fans may get to finally see what all of the hype that came with Trevor Bauer is about and that should be extremely exciting to everyone.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer