Hooper: Bauer being overlooked in Cy Young discussion

Sale the only true rival to Tribe hurler

Alex Hooper
September 30, 2018 - 7:52 pm
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Trevor Bauer delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, in Cleveland.

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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“Availability is the best ability.”

Perhaps Trevor Bauer does not believe that phrase to its fullest extent, as the high-minded pitcher probably views many aspects of his craft as valuable. Regardless, Bauer embodies the proverb to the point that even his logo depicts the righty strengthening his throwing shoulder.

It took a freak injury, a line drive that caused a stress fracture in Bauer’s fibula, to knock him out. Had that not happened, it is easy to believe Bauer would have stayed off of the disabled list and thus started 32 to 34 times.

If he had continued the pace he was on prior to the injury, the American League Cy Young race would be a foregone conclusion.

When the season wrapped up on Sunday, any conversation about the award seemed to revolve around Boston Red Sox lefty Chris Sale, with sprinkles of Tampa Bay Rays southpaw Blake Snell and Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros.

None of the heavy favorites were more unavailable than the front runner, so much so that Sale does not even qualify for the pitching leaderboard.

Thus is the only serious consideration about the award: How much do 17 1/3 innings matter?

That is the difference between Sale and Bauer, and enough to qualify the latter, but not the former.

Sale has racked up 6.5 WAR in 2018, 2nd most in the American League behind Verlander (6.8), taking seven fewer starts and 56 fewer innings to do so. When he was on the mound, Sale was the best pitcher in the AL, and possibly in baseball.

Even Bauer does not square up well enough with Sale, trailing in ERA, FIP, WAR and K%, with only a modest lead in HR/9.

The comparison between Snell and Verlander to Bauer, however, is almost equally distant to those to Sale. Snell leads the AL with a 1.89 ERA, but his 2.94 FIP figures 5th into the AL leaderboards for pitchers that have thrown 150 innings* (for purposes of including Sale). Snell has also thrown just under five more innings than Bauerl.

Given that a pitcher’s ERA regresses towards their FIP, it is generally more indicative of their quality the purely results-based standard of ERA.

Outside of Sale, no pitcher in the AL has a better FIP than Bauer.

Also to Bauer’s credit, his .47 HR/9 is best in the AL, most impressive in the peak year of a home run surge. By that same token, it must be noted that the 27-year-old’s 31.2% K-rate is 6th* behind Sale, Verlander, Gerrit Cole, James Paxton and Snell, respectively, in a peak surge by that measure.

Snell makes his best case among the candidates in that his 44.7% GB-rate is best among them, 11th in the AL.

The vote, disregarding market size, will come down most to what the selected BBWAA writers emphasize.

Sale has been the best pitcher in the AL, that cannot be argued, but if a pitcher cannot win the ERA-title, can they deservedly with the Cy Young Award?

The best pitcher in the league outside of Sale has indeed been Bauer, but can voters justify those 17 1/3 innings making the difference between pitchers? A law-abiding man like Bauer could, and has, made that argument.

If old-school, less indicative measures of quality like ERA and wins matter most to a potential old-school crowd, Snell is the leader in both matters, and should be the vote.

If racking up the most stats in the most time – the availability argument to its max – Verlander makes his case alongside Indians ace Corey Kluber.

Plenty is up in the air, but this much should be declared: If Chris Sale is the American League Cy Young Award winner, Trevor Bauer should be the runner-up. By proxy, in this writer’s opinion, he should finish no lower than runner-up to any pitcher.