The Cleveland Indians’ Trevor Bauer has largely been known for his off-the-mound actions and soundbites rather than his actual pitching. He was taken third overall during the 2011 draft out of UCLA because of his talent but was never quite able to put it together as we all expected. Since debuting as a 21-year-old, the 27-year-old never had a season with an ERA under 4.00. In fact, before this season, the lowest ERA he ever had was 4.18

But 2018 has been a revelation for the Indians’ righty. He is starting to realize his potential and letting his pitching be the reason we talk about him. Baseball is the sport where players ‘pop’ late, and Bauer is just the latest example. He’s having a heck of a breakout season and is turning into a bonafide ace and in legitimate contention for the 2018 American League Cy Young.

He has a 2.25 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 206 strikeouts in 159.2 innings, while opponents have a .589 OPS off him. Bauer leads the American League in innings, is third in ERA, and second in WAR behind Chris Sale, according to Baseball Reference. But, according to FanGraphs, he is number one.

It’s quite the coincidence that his college teammate, Gerrit Cole, who went #1 overall in the same draft as Bauer, is having the best season of his career too.

Bauer is posting career-best virtually all across the board, in ERA, WHIP, FIP, strikeouts, and is on pace to break through his career-most 190 innings in a season. He’s even improved, albeit slightly, in the control and command department. He’s always been erratic throughout his career, but he’s been slightly less in 2018.

His stuff is finally starting to develop into the dominating swing-and-miss pitches that he was expected to have. Bauer has broken the 200-strikeout plateau for the first time as a pro, with the help of a personal-best 11.61 K/9, and an elite 31.3% strikeout rate.

He has gotten over 30% of batters to chase his pitches out of the zone, and unlike years past where they would make contact at a relatively high rate, only 45% of chases from batters have seen the batters put bat onto the ball.

His stuff is as good as we thought, perhaps better. Bauer’s become nastier and is using his offerings. There is a lot more movement on his slider, sinker, and curveball this year compared to 2014-2017. His slide, in particular,r is moving over three inches more, horizontally. His curve is dropping almost two inches more, and his sinker is sinking better than before.

His whiffs-per-swing on each pitch is at an all-time high and astronomically higher than the previous four seasons. And in addition to having nastier breaking pitches, Bauer is throwing his four-seam fastball harder than he has in his career, averaging 95.2 mph on it.

And the metrics love him too. Not only does he have an excellent FIP, but he is doing this while having a league-average BABIP, showing that he isn’t getting lucky when a guy puts a ball in play. His hard-hit rate of 30.2% is comfortably below the league-average 34.1%. Bauer has an Expected Batting Average of .205, an Expected Slugging Percentage .328, and an excellent .264 wOBA.

Bauer has also allowed only seven home runs in 159.2 innings, which alone comes out to an absurd .39 HR/9. But, that number becomes even more surreal when you realize the Indians’ closer Cody Allen has allowed nine in just 46 innings.

We are starting to see Trevor Bauer realize his potential in front of our very own eyes, and it’s time it gets more attention. Justin Verlander and Chris Sale are having excellent seasons, and Bauer is right there with them and has immersed himself into the 2018 AL Cy Young conversation.

For the past few years, Corey Kluber has been the Indians ace, with Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar backing him up to form a formidable trio. And Bauer would quietly fill in the fourth or fifth slot and eat innings while keeping the Indians in the game. But he has finally taken that next step and is realizing just how great he can be.

Featured Image via Flickr/EDrost88