Even though he has had success as a starter, Trevor Bauer could be a realistic option for the Cleveland Indians in the closer role.
Trevor Bauer finished his season by recording two outs for the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series, and he should finish hundreds more games for the team in the coming years. Bauer should be the Indians’ new closer.
To say such a ridiculous statement about a team that has both Andrew Miller and Cody Allen is just that, ridiculous. It may sound crazy because of the Indians bullpen, but because of the way Terry Francona used his relievers during the playoffs, this theory might actually work.
Bauer has always been a project for the Indians. He has shown flashes of pure brilliance and moments of randomness. Using his immense knowledge of physics and baseball, some of his pitches can be downright nasty, but his inconsistency has led to doubts about his future as an MLB starter.
On a team with Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco, there are only two spots open in the rotation. With Josh Tomlin likely taking one of these in 2017 and youngsters Ryan Merritt and Mike Clevinger in the wings, Bauer does not seem to have a clear job.
As a starter in 2016, Bauer posted a 4.35 ERA and 1.301 WHIP. In 7 games as a reliever his ERA was only 3.31 but his WHIP was a little higher at 1.408. Now these numbers may suggest he had a few good outings as a reliever but his WHIP will catch up to him, but thinking outside the numbers shows even more.
Bauer is known to train and prepare extensively for every game. He is prepared for games (whether his plan is the same as the catcher/team is sometimes unknown), but this over-thinking seems to be hurting his pitching.
Starters know when their next game is. When a reliever goes to the ballpark, they do not know if they are pitching that night. Arguably Bauer’s best outing as an Indian was his five-inning relief appearance in Toronto during the 19-inning marathon that he eventually received the win for.
When Bauer came into Game 7 he was not supposed to be pitching. Kluber started and the bullpen was rested, yet there he was and he pitched great. The largest stage in professional baseball – the tenth inning of Game Seven of the World Series – and Bauer limited the damage and gave the Indians one last chance.
Looking at Bauer’s stats, it seems he does not pitch well in all high-pressure situations, but it usually is because he does not pitch well when he falls behind. When he gives up a few runs, he often lets the game get farther away. He does not do well in pressure when his team needs to come back.
On the other hand, Bauer thrives under pressure that he is thrown into. One more example of his stellar pitching was the Naquin walk-off game. He gave up a homer to Russell Martin in the first inning, the Blue Jays fans went crazy (all 20,000 of them), and then Bauer sat down the rest of the lineup. By creating an atmosphere that felt like the end of the game, Bauer had put the right type of pressure on himself. In strange circumstances of difficulty, Bauer is his best.
One saying he cannot pitch under pressure looks to the World Series games he started. But again, he knew the circumstances of those games going in. His best outing in the series was when he was thrust into the game at the last second.
The less thought Bauer has about a game, the better for the team. Take away the over-thinking and the over-analyzing and he just pitches.
So why should he be the closer and not just a reliever? Frankly, this is based on his ego.
Now, ego is not a bad thing in professional sports. It has led many to greatness, but would also make being a regular reliever difficult for Bauer. Making him the closer will show he is extremely important – boosting his confidence, but limiting his time on the field.
Miller would be the closer on any team that does not have Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen or Francona as the manager, and Allen is phenomenal. But both of these pitchers are fine pitching in any role. Miller is the team’s “firefighter” and Allen can become his partner in crime.
Bauer could slide into the ninth inning and open up a new realm of possibilities for Francona to use his two best pitchers. With Shaw and Bauer at the back of the bullpen, the “fire brigade” could be used as early as the fourth inning in important games.
Miller is actually a perfect example of a mediocre starter turned incredible reliever. His lowest ERA as a starter was 4.43. This season he had an ERA of 1.45 as a reliever.
With Bauer’s long list of pitches he has created, a move to the pen full-time would mean he could pick two or three and learn to throw them extremely well – as Miller did with his slider.
Bauer does have impressive movement on his pitches, but he tends to get wild at some point during every one of his starts. Limiting him to one inning at the end of wins will put him in the best spot to throw hard and have adrenaline running through his body with every pitch.
As a reliever in 2016, his SO/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) was 1.6 higher than as a starter. Only facing a few batters, he is able to throw better and harder pitches.
Bauer might fail as a closer. The pressure argument may be outweighed by his wildness, but if there was ever a time to try it is now. Yes, the team needs a first baseman and a better outfield and the bullpen is amazing, but placing Bauer in the rotation weakens this team. Give someone else a chance, but also use Bauer’s talent.
There is a very small chance of such a move because of guys like Allen and Miller, but why not? Francona proved the ninth inning is not the best time to put in your best pitchers, so let Bauer have the ninth. He will feel needed by the team and may control his pitches better. He also likes to pitch more often than most guys, and in this role he could pitch a few days in a row.
Bauer has the personality of a big-time closer and maybe it is the best option for both the team and him. He cannot become a free agent until 2021, so trying to convert him to a closer now could help for the next few years.
With Merritt or Clevinger (or even Cody Anderson) having a good spring, the Indians may actually think about this ridiculous idea.