Trevor Bauer is back from the abyss.
Bauer's 2013 season was a mild disaster. He was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Indians in a three-team deal that saw Arizona acquire shortstop Didi Gregorius and the Reds land outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. After joining his new club, Bauer’s stuff backed up, his already shaky control worsened and he struggled to a 6-7, 4.15 season at Triple-A Columbus and was an even worse 1-2, 5.29 in four starts with the Indians. He walked way too many batters (5.8 per nine innings) and was extremely home run prone (17 in 138 innings).
Bauer has done a lot to regain his status as a power arm starter this year. He's once again throwing a plus fastball, he's improved his control significantly and he's allowed only one home run in 46 innings. He’s already made one spot start for Cleveland in the second game of a doubleheader. With Danny Salazar struggling in Cleveland, the Indians could soon call on Bauer on a more regular basis.
Bauer's stuff is dramatically better than what it was at this time last year. Where he sat in the low 90s with his fastball at times last year, he's sitting 93-96 mph this year and is touching 97 mph again, more in line with the stuff he showed at UCLA. His control has also improved—he threw strikes on 57 percent of his pitches in Triple-A last year compared to 64 percent this year.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Bauer has stopped moving around on the rubber. A year ago, Bauer would slide from the extreme glove-side of the rubber against righthanders to slightly on the arm side when he faced lefthanders. Such a move can give a pitcher an opportunity to get inside better against both lefthanded and righthanded hitters, but it also adds an extra level of difficulty in finding the zone from two distinct release points. Now Bauer sticks on the extreme glove-side of the rubber for both lefties and righties. Some pitchers find that pitching from the glove side makes it easier to throw strikes.
That improved control has kept Bauer out of the walk-induced jams he often found himself in last year, and it's allowed him to work deeper into games. He's finished the sixth in all seven starts this year and has worked seven or more innings each of his past three outings. Last year, Bauer pitched six or more innings in only 10 of his 22 Triple-A starts and threw seven or more innings only three times.
Bauer's control has improved, but he still does have some work to do on his command. Bauer comfortably located his fastball up in the strike zone, but he has struggled to locate it down in the zone. Last year with less control, his tendency to pitch up in the zone with his fastball led to home run problems.
Bauer's curveball was already an effective pitch last year, but it's gotten better this year because he's pitching off of his fastball, setting up his curveball, rather than the other way around.
What To Expect
Bauer has regained his arm speed this year and has stretches of dominance. That said, he more likely slots as a useful middle-of-the-rotation starter instead of a front-end ace. Bauer's control improvements are real and significant, and his arm speed improvements ensure that his fastball, curveball and slider are all better pitches than they were last year. But he still has average command at best, and his tendency to pitch up in the zone could lead to home run problems at the big league level. Expect Bauer to help in wins and strikeouts with a near league-average WHIP and ERA.