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Cleveland Indians: Ramblings on the first half of 2018

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(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Trevor Bauer reaching his potential

It’s Opening Day. You’re a big analytics enthusiast, so you look into a crystal ball to find out which pitcher will lead the Majors in fWAR at the All-Star break. “Why am I even doing this?” you ask yourself. “I’m sure it’ll be Sale, or Kluber, or Kershaw, or Scherzer…”

The crystal ball reveals the answer: it’s Trevor Bauer. You’re shocked, and maybe even a little offended. You immediately demand a refund from the low-rent scam artist who swindled you into believing he could show you the future. He apologizes profusely, says he’s just a guy trying to do a job, and insists that the premonition is authentic.

Later on that day, you decide to find out if there are any clues that indicate Bauer might indeed be headed for an elite season as a starting pitcher. Before long, you stumble across his interview with Jordan Bastian of MLB.com in which he explains how he spent the winter utilizing some pretty advanced scientific methods to improve his pitch arsenal, specifically with the intent of adding a slider he felt comfortable throwing regularly.

The interview is enlightening, and you find yourself able to see how Bauer’s work ethic and competitiveness could translate into big success in 2018.

Fast forward to late July, and FanGraphs tells us that Bauer’s slider usage is up to 14 percent after he threw the pitch just four percent of the time last year. The other pitches in his repertoire hover at about the exact same frequency between the two seasons except for one: his fastball. After throwing fastballs 49 percent of the time in 2017, that number is down to 41 this season.

You don’t need me to spell out the math for you, but when half of the pitches a guy throws are fastballs, you’ll gladly take those odds as an opposing hitter even if he does have the ability to reach the high 90s. Bauer’s incorporation of the slider to go along with his curveball as secondary offerings has forced hitters to account for a significantly larger volume of breaking balls in 2018.

The work he put in refining his new pitch has resulted in a career year.

Bauer’s 2.24 ERA trails only Chris Sale and Jacob deGrom for the league lead. He has never had an ERA below four in previous seasons. After posting a career-high 196 strikeouts last year, he has sent 175 batters packing thus far in 2018. He has not given up more than three earned runs in a start since May 27, nor has he gone fewer than six innings since June 2. Bauer has also done well limiting the home run ball, having surrendered just six in 136.1 innings.

On an Indians pitching staff comprised of relatively reserved personalities, Bauer is known for being the guy who isn’t reserved at all. He has a knack for saying exactly what’s on his mind, a quality that has endeared him to fans in Cleveland, but to which some of his critics have taken exception in the past. If he continues to dominate the way he has through 20 starts this season, it’s safe to say he’ll soon have a very different reputation.

One thing is for certain, though: If you told Bauer five months ago he’d find himself among the game’s elite starting pitchers at the All-Star break, he wouldn’t have found it shocking at all.

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