Ask BA: Will A Bullpen Move Fix Trevor Bauer’s Troubles?

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Q: Do you think that the time in the bullpen will benefit Trevor Bauer ?

Mick Eichten


When the Indians opened the season, they announced that Trevor Bauer was the odd man out in a three-pitcher battle for the fourth- and fifth-starters jobs. Those went to Josh Tomlin and Cody Anderson while Bauer was moved to the bullpen.

The move is yet another setback in what has been so far a disappointing career for Bauer. The third pick in the 2011 draft, Bauer was traded by the Diamondbacks just a year later for shortstop Didi Gregorius. While the deal was panned by many at the time (including me to an extent), it has ended up proving to be a worthwhile deal for the Diamondbacks. Arizona later dealt Gregorius to the Yankees in a deal that brought Robbie Ray to Arizona.

For the Indians, Bauer should have been a front-of-the-rotation starter by now. Instead his long-running control troubles have kept him from developing into a league-average starter. Bauer’s stuff is never a problem–he still has a mid-90s fastball and a wide-variety of secondary offerings. Bauer misses bats, but as long as he keeps walking batters, it won’t matter.

Bauer’s two big problems are a walk rate (4.0 BB/9 last year) that is among the worst in the league among starters and a high home run rate that might have something to do with him being a shorter righthander who pitches up in the zone.

Bauer’s control problems have kept him from showing little more than flashes of dominance as a starter. Even his best outings have usually involved pitching around control issues.

But all is not lost. There are examples of pitchers finding their control later in their career. If you’re an Indians fan, the best memory is the career of Cliff Lee.  Lee was struggling with his control and was sent to the bullpen  as a 28-year-old with the Indians. Finally, as a 29-year-old, something clicked and Lee became a Cy Young winner. Bauer is still just 25.

But it’s unlikely that the bullpen role will fix Bauer’s ability to throw strikes as a starter. Working as a reliever might allow him to simplify his pitching assortment, but that’s not really his approach—he likes to mix his pitches.

He does have the stuff to be a potentially dominant reliever, but as Wade Davis, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and others before them have shown, success in the bullpen with great arms usually leads to more bullpen work, not a move back to the rotation. If you are hoping to see Bauer succeed as a starter Phil Hughes career track is the best example.

The bigger question with Bauer’s control is whether there’s really anything that can fix it at this point. No one spends more time working out and trying to master the craft of pitching in the offseason. Bauer works on developing velocity, tweaking his pitches and more in grueling offseason workouts. So far, none of that has allowed him to throw strikes consistently.

So if your question is whether a move to the bullpen could make Bauer a very useful reliever, I’d say yes. But I don’t think time in the bullpen is going to help his chances of being a frontline starter.

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