Sideshow is Over: Trevor Bauer is Living Up to His Promise

Trevor Bauer once said he is good at only two things.

One is throwing a baseball. The other is irritating people.

Until last season, the Cleveland Indians pitcher was far better at the second than the first.

Best known for his unusual training methods and cutting his finger while playing with a drone, Bauer turned into an All-Star starting pitcher in 2018, and he seems primed for his best season in 2019.

He has already gone on the record saying he thinks he will win the American League Cy Young Award this year.

He might be right.

Bauer got off to a great start in 2019 with two great starts. He went seven innings against the Minnesota Twins and gave up one hit and one run. Bauer was better five days later against the Toronto Blue Jays. He was working on a no-hit, shutout when he was pulled after seven innings.

He fell back to earth in his next start, giving up four runs in 5.2 innings of a 4-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Bauer bounced back against the Seattle Mariners, going 6.2 innings and giving up one earned run.

Bauer is 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA, 32 strikeouts, and a 1.025 WHIP.

Polished Performer

Bauer feels he is finally, in his age 28 season, a finished product. He says his changeup, slider, and curveball are each among the top 10 in baseball. His fastball averaged 95 mph last season, the highest velocity of his career.

His results were excellent last season. He went 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA and 1.089 WHIP.

In fact, he thought his season merited the 2018 AL Cy Young Award.

He finished sixth in the voting last season. His teammate Corey Kluber finished third.

“Plot twist, I was better than Kluber this year,” Bauer wrote on Twitter during the offseason – which is such a Trevor Bauer thing to do.

Bauer’s Manners

If you want to be polite when describing Bauer, you call him eccentric.

If like Bauer you believe that any sort of tact is either phony, or a waste of time, you would use adjectives such as strange, weird, uncouth, peculiar, or boorish.

Though he grew up in Southern California, Bauer’s favorite basketball team was the Duke Blue Devils. He wore a Duke cap on a recruiting visit to UCLA. Then-basketball coach Ben Howland suggested the young man might want to remove that headgear. Bauer didn’t.

He is abrasive in person – and worse on Twitter. He accused the Houston Astros pitching staff of using illegal substances to increase their spin rate, angered many with his tweets complaining about President Barack Obama, and he notoriously bullied a Texas State student.

Opposing lawyers brought up his use – or misuse — of social media in his most recent salary arbitration hearing.

Bauer’s Methods

You can question his manners and judgment, but no one can question Bauer’s focus. Bauer has worked relentlessly on becoming a great pitcher since he was eight.

He has tuned not just his body, but his mind. He has studied biomechanics and physics and how those sciences relate to pitching.

As a kid Bauer says he enjoyed origami and won trophies at chess tournaments.

He marches to his own drummer, a percussionist who seems slightly out of rhythm.

But at least when it comes to pitching, there is a method to Bauer’s madness.

He throws a lot in the offseason – taboo to the game’s thinking. Bauer is well-known for playing catch, foul line to foul line, before games.

He has insisted on training his own way in college and in the pro ranks.

His coach at UCLA, John Savage, told Bauer he could do it his way – as long as it worked. Another freshman teammate, Gerrit Cole, disagreed with the special treatment and called him out in front of the whole team. Bauer and Cole didn’t speak again for almost a decade.

Cole was an excellent pitcher in college and became the number one draft choice in 2011 after his junior season. Bauer was better than Cole every season, winning the Golden Spikes Award and the National Pitcher of the Year Award after their junior seasons.

Bauer went third in the draft to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who agreed Bauer could do it his way – as long as it worked.

First Impressions

They showed Bauer on the jumbo screen at Chase Field, sitting in choice seats, chowing down on some ballpark fare, chewing with his mouth open. He saw himself on the screen. He smiled and went back to chewing with his mouth open.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. And that was fans’ first impression of the highly regarded pitching prospect.

He spent the next year and a half making poor impressions with the organization.

His teammates didn’t like him, and the coaching staff had trouble with him.

“When you get a guy like that and he thinks he’s got everything figured out,’’ veteran catcher Miguel Montero told Phoenix radio station KTAR. “It’s just tough to commence and try to get on the same page with you.”

This was the era of the gritty, grinder Diamondbacks. General manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson were old school and had limited tolerance for Bauer’s quirks.

Shipped Out

The Diamondbacks decided to deal him rather than deal with him.

They sent him to Cleveland that winter. It was part of a three-way trade that cost the Diamondbacks reliable relievers Bryan Shaw and Matt Albers for first baseman/left fielder Lars Anderson, reliever Tony Sipp, and shortstop Didi Gregorius.

Anderson never played in the majors again. Meanwhile, Sipp played part of one season before the Diamondbacks designated him for assignment; he became a free agent that winter.

Gregorius, whom Tower said reminded him of Derek Jeter, played two seasons with the Diamondbacks. Tower and Gibson were replaced, and the Tony La RussaDave Stewart brain trust traded Gregorius in a multiteam deal. Gregorius went to the New York Yankees, where he reminds others of Jeter.

The Diamondbacks got pitcher Robbie Ray and infielder Domingo Leyba. Leyba is at Triple-A.

Regrets … Eventually

So, how did the Diamondbacks make out?

For simplicity, I will just compare Bauer with the Indians to Gregorius and Ray with the Diamondbacks.

Here is Bauer’s record with the Indians through April 17:

Season W-L ERA WAR
2013 4-4 5.82 -0.2
2014 5-8 4.18 2.0
2015 11-12 4.55 1.6
2016 12-8 4.26 2.3
2017 17-9 4.19 3.2
2018 12-6 2.21 5.7
2019 1-0 0.64 1.0

Here is Gregorius with the Diamondbacks:

Season G OBP OPS WAR
2013 103 .332 .704 1.4
2014 80 .290 .653 1.1

Here is Ray with the Diamondbacks through April 17:

Season W-L ERA WAR
2015 5-12 3.52 1.7
2016 8-15 4.90 0.8
2017 15-5 2.89 4.7
2018 6-2 3.93 1.4
2019 0-1 4.64 0.2

Bauer jumped into the WAR lead after last season, 14.6 to 11.1. It is worth noting that Ray was a much better pitcher than Bauer in 2017. But Ray missed a lot of time with an oblique injury in 2018 and is off to a rocky start this season. If Ray were to regain his 2017 form, the trade would look decidedly less one-sided.

Cleveland Years

Bauer became a solid middle-of-the-rotation contributor. He has made at least 26 starts a season since 2014. Bauer was reliable – except when the Indians needed him most. He cut his pinky while playing with a drone right before he was supposed to start Game 2 of the 2016 ALCS.

He wound up starting Game 3 and lasting only two-thirds of an inning. Bauer appeared in three World Series games in 2016, pitching 8.1 innings and giving up five runs, as the Indians lost to the Chicago Cubs in seven games.

In 2018 the guy who had always been different became a different performer. What changed that made him a star?

Bauer walked fewer batters and gave up fewer home runs (leading the AL in lowest homer rate per nine innings with 0.5) in 2018.

Wayne G. McDonnell, Jr. theorized at Forbes.com that Bauer’s success could be traced to using his slider as a strikeout pitch. Bauer struck out a total of 28 batters with his slider from 2012-17, but he fanned 84 with the pitch last season.

Whatever the cause for his success, Trevor Bauer’s performance is finally worth all the fuss.

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