Why Trevor Bauer Should Replace Struggling Carlos Carrasco in Indians' Rotation

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Trevor Bauer has made some impressive strides early on in 2014, and although mother nature afforded him the opportunity to pitch in one big league game this season, the young righty is still stuck in Triple-A purgatory.

Meanwhile, the Indians starting rotation is struggling... mightily. Consider the chart below, which details the Tribe's starting pitchers, their combined statistics, and the American League rankings for each individual stat.

Cleveland Indians Starting Pitchers (2014)
Justin Masterson421.24.9810.
Corey Kluber423.15.407.32.33.1713.11.71
Danny Salazar314.07.7110.95.12.1312.21.93
Zach McAllister317.
Carlos Carrasco3167.319.64.52.1310.71.69
Trevor Bauer (MLB Only)16.01.5012.
AL Ranking---12th14th1st14th9th14th15th

Zach McAllister has been the lone consistent bright spot in the rotation. Unfortunately, aside from McAllister, the Indians' rotation has been lackluster and the case can be made that its worst member has been Carlos Carrasco.

Carrasco has struggled over his first three starts, and although he's averaging an impressive 9.6 K/9 through said two starts, the 27-year-old has allowed 4.5 walks per-nine, while also surrendering a whopping 10.7 H/9.

The right-hander has been somewhat unlucky this year, allowing a .391 BAbip over 16 innings pitched. However, that's not totally unexpected when you consider his 60.2 strike percentage and his 52 first-strike percentage—both are well under league average.

Even Carrasco's most recent start leaves a lot to be desired.

Though the team managed a win—Carrasco did not figure into the decision—the veteran righty did not leave the team in a great position to eek out the victory. Over 5.2 innings pitched, Carrasco allowed four earned runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out five.

In short, Carrasco has been bad, and his negative-0.4 bWAR is an accurate reflection of that. 

The question now becomes: How long can the team wait, hoping that Carrasco will turn things around? If they hope to keep pace with the rest of the AL Central for the entirety of the 2014 season, the answer is, not long.

To alleviate their early-season struggles, the Indians should put themselves ahead of the curve, and call up Trevor Bauer to round out the back end of the rotation.

Bauer's sole MLB start in 2014 came against the offensively inept San Diego Padres, however, it was impressive nonetheless. Over six strong innings, Bauer allowed just one earned run on four hits and two walks, while striking out eight.

Bauer took the loss in that outing, but that's an obvious reflection on the Indians offense, and not an indictment of his performance on that day.

The 23-year-old has made two other starts in 2014, both coming with the team's Triple-A affiliate in Columbus.

Bauer's minor league starts came against teams with Pythagorean win-loss records above the .500 mark, and he was downright dominant. Across the two starts, Bauer logged 12 innings and allowed just one earned run on seven hits and three walks while striking out 18 starts.

Beyond the tabular data collected from Bauer's stats, there are two major things we can take from Bauer's performance to this point in the 2014 season.

First, Bauer has been much more efficient with his pitch selection.

Over 18 combined innings between Triple-A and Cleveland, Bauer has issued just five free passes. Bauer's 2.5 BB/9 in 2014 is a far cry from any previous season, especially when you consider the fact that he averaged 5.8 BB/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 2013 and 2012, respectively.

This year though, Bauer looks like a totally different pitcher, and he appears to be much more comfortable attacking hitters. This improved mindset is evidenced by Bauer's 61.7 strike percentage.

That near-62 percent mark is a huge improvement over the 57.1 percent mark he held coming into the 2014 season. Bauer went from being a below-average strike thrower, to a near-league-average strike thrower—the big league average for strikes thrown over Bauer's career is 63.8 percent.

Though he's still not quite where he should be, Bauer has shown massive improvements in his approach to pitching. Should that continue, it will go a long way in the continuation of his decreased walk totals, while also allowing him to pitch more innings and to go deeper into ball games.

Bauer's improved command may be the result of increased confidence in his stuff. If you're afraid to throw your fastball for a strike, and you nibble at the strike zone, you're going to walk plenty of batters.

This year though, that hasn't been a problem for Bauer, who has seen his average fastball velocity jump anywhere from two to three miles per hour. It's not just Bauer's fastball that's seen an uptick in velocity though, the divisive righty has seen the average velocity of all of his pitches increase.

The chart below details these increases between 2013 and 2014—note, the 2014 figures represent the velocities collected from just one big league start.

Trevor Bauer 2013-14 Pitch Velocities
Pitch TypeFourseamChangeSliderCurveSplit

According to the data collected at Brooksbaseball.net, Bauer's average fastball velocity is up 1.5 miles per hour from the 2013 season, while the rest of his pitch velocities have increased anywhere from 1.58 to 3.95 miles per hour.

The folks over at Brooksbaseball aren't the only ones noticing Bauer's improved velocity though.

Bauer's offseason improvements were first broadcast during spring training, by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes, who interviewed Bauer on his offseason workout regiment. In speaking to Hoynes, Bauer had this to say on the changes he noticed in his velocity.

I’ve been up to 93.7 mph off the mound. That’s in training sessions when I’m worn down from lifting, working out and throwing a lot. I generally see a four to six mph increase from the off-season to spring training.

That hard work has already paid major dividends this season, and Indians' manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on the young hurler. Francona had this to say after Bauer took the loss in a dominant start against the San Diego Padres—via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

It’s nice to see, especially in a real game, in a (big-league) ballpark, in a game that counts. We didn’t win that game, but organizationally, that was a good day for us. All of a sudden you look down at Columbus and you have a 23-year-old throwing about 95 mph with a hook and a change up. That’s nice to know.

Bauer is clearly out-pitching Carrasco, and while he's done most of his work at the Triple-A level, it's important to note that Bauer has been pitching against competition that is, on average, four years older than him.

Bauer has struggled against older competition in years past, but not in 2014. Consider the slash lines allowed by Bauer to older hitters over the last three seasons.

Older Batters vs. Trevor Bauer 2012-14

Bauer has been outstanding against older competition in 2014, and that's an important factor to consider when assessing the idea of whether or not to move him up permanently. At 23 years old, Bauer will consistently face older competition at the big league level, but he's proving early on that he can get older batters out with consistency.

The Indians rotation is struggling here in the early stages of 2014, and Carlos Carrasco is their weakest link.

Moving Carrasco to the bullpen, where the 26-year-old holds a 1.32 ERA in eight career appearances, could help shore up two areas of the Tribe's roster. Bauer could bring consistency (has this phrase ever been uttered before?) to the starting rotation, and Carrasco could effectively replace Blake Wood, who has had his own struggles in the bullpen.

Bauer's momentum is at an all-time high. With Carrasco struggling again, now is the time to see if he's ready for Major League Baseball on a more permanent basis.


All stats are current through play on April 20th, 2014 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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