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Is It Legit? Trevor Bauer's Breakout 2018 Season

We're back with another edition of "Is It Legit?" to discuss another surprising breakout performer from the 2018 MLB season in order to assess his value heading into 2019.

With so many players seemingly becoming fantasy baseball darlings overnight, it can be challenging to sift through the multiple hype trains and determine which players are actually expected to produce similar, or even better, numbers the following year.

Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer finally put together the season fans had been hoping for last year, posting a 2.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.34 K/9 and a 6.1 fWAR. He was a Cy Young candidate before a leg injury shelved him for a month or so. Does that point to a Cy Young-caliber 2019 season, or was that as good as it gets for Bauer outage?

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No More Tinkering

Bauer has long tinkered with his arsenal to try to find the perfect combination of deception and pitch-mix. It appears he found it last season, which definitely points to continued success. Bauer finally started to scrap his ugly sinker in favor of a slider, which had a 21% SwStr% last year. Now, his four-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curveball, changeup) each generates a SwStr over 15%, making him dangerous with his entire arsenal.

It is worth pointing out that Bauer's dominance actually started in the middle of 2017, so it was by no means a one-year fluke. Since July 27, 2017, Bauer has posted a 2.29 ERA, a 30% k rate and a 1.13 WHIP.

Bauer has found the winning formula, and it has flummoxed hitters for over a year now. That, to me at least, indicates that continued success in 2019 should be expected.


A Few Points of Concern

One thing for fans to monitor this spring is his velocity. After returning from the DL last year, Bauer's fastball velocity dropped to 93.0 miles per hour, and with it came the cratering of his strikeout rate. It's entirely possible, likely even, that he returned from the DL before he was ready and his results suffered. Still - it's worth monitoring his fastball velocity in the spring as he ramps it up to make sure he can get back to the 95 mph range with his heater.

Now, Bauer didn't get to his 2.21 ERA without a little bit of luck. His 3.21 SIERA is a full run higher than his actual output, although Cleveland's stellar defense around the diamond does help put that into context, along with his 2.44 FIP. He also benefited greatly from a 6.2% HR/FB rate, leading to a 0.46 HR/9. That probably won't happen again, and a return to normal HR rates could raise his ERA into the high-2.00's.

Still, we are looking at one of the elite pitchers in the entire league, and for some reason, fantasy owners are still a bit hesitant to buy-in. Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale are definitely ahead of Bauer, and Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Blake Snell are all in the same category. However, I'm comfortable taking Bauer as the No. 4 starter off the board, and think you should be as well.

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