In Praise of Trevor Bauer…

Making the case for one of baseball’s most polarising characters, it’s Padraig Whelan

The entirety of Major League Baseball should adopt the designated hitter rule.

Starting extra innings with a runner on second base is a good idea.

Pete Rose deserves to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Don’t dare talk about it if a perfect game or no-hitter is in progress.

Baseball has plenty of unpopular opinions.

My own? I have to admit it but I am a big fan of polarising Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer.

It isn’t a view that a quick perusal of his name across the internet would suggest that many share.

The 27-year-old right-hander is also, of course, no stranger to an unpopular opinion himself, with some of them verging on downright provocative and controversial.

There is no doubt that he is a player who infuriates many with his antics, both in the stands and in opposing dugouts alike.

Most recently, he has become embroiled in a Twitter spat with essentially the entire Houston Astros pitching staff and indeed organisation, after a suggestion that they are adopting some form of illegal substance to increase the spin rate on their pitches.

It led to a somewhat amusing Twitter back and forth (something which anyone who follows the California native on the platform will know is a daily occurrence) between Bauer and members of the World Series champions.

One exchange began with Astros infielder Alex Bregman mockingly addressing Bauer as ‘Tyler’, something which he has now changed his Twitter handle to, embracing the insult.

There has long been a complaint that baseball doesn’t embrace its characters and individualism enough, something highlighted once more recently when Chicago Cubs duo Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras were warned by MLB for minor uniform infractions.

When it comes to characters, there is absolutely no doubt that Bauer is one of them.

As recently as Friday, when the Indians rolled into town in Texas to take on the Astros, the feud had continued to rumble on as Bauer displayed the side of his personality which personally,  I find extremely amusing.

As part of a charitable marathon he is running in which he donates to various organisations in a 69-day spell, he announced that he was donating to the Lance McCullers Jr.Foundation, one member of the Astros who had been extremely riled up by the spin rate comments.

Even in performing the good deed which must be commended, he couldn’t help but get a little dig in in the process, stating that it helped pets ‘get out of sticky situations’, another veiled reference to his allegations against the world champions.

That is just one small example. A scroll through Bauer’s Twitter account shows that he isn’t afraid of an argument with anyone at all.

However, he is also accessible through both that platform and the Infield Chatter application and in a world in which professional athletes are becoming further and further removed from those in the stands or who watch from home, that is another big positive in Bauer’s favour.

For better or worse, he is also unafraid of voicing his opinion and again, while many will disagree with both this and the pitcher’s own views, that is something that appears ever more rare in modern sport.

Bland press conferences and athletes churning out media relations-approved soundbites which will neither offend nor interest are increasingly becoming the norm.

That is something you won’t get with the former Arizona Diamondback and that’s something I believe he deserves praise for.

While others may seek to carry on for a hassle-free life, he has taken on MLB for issues such as Twitter censorship and pace of play, even if it means rubbing some the wrong way en route.

After learning over the off-season that some teammates may not be a fan of him, he attempted to right that wrong within his own clubhouse with heart-to-heart conversations with those behind the scenes at Progressive Field.

There is also a big sense from the player himself that the perception of him within the public eye is an unfair one and he has tried to clarify that of late.

“People have the wrong impression about me and think I’m elitist or conceited or whatever but really, I’m a good person,” he said.

“I take care of my friends and family and I’m kindhearted. I’m a better person than a lot of people I’m surrounded by.

“I know I’ll get chewed up for saying that but it is true.”

Therein, perhaps, lies the issue in that similarly to the earlier donation and tweet to McCullers Jr, the final sentence likely didn’t sit too well with some and was just another case of him putting his foot in his mouth.

However, there is also clearly a good side to Bauer, as he says himself, and although Twitter is the source of much animosity towards him, his initial purpose for setting it up was actually to give fans and fledgling players the chance to use him as a resource, the kind of major league player access he would have killed for as a youngster growing up.

Convinced yet?

Both on the mound and off it, one of the self-confessed ‘most scientific players in MLB’ is also an extremely thoughtful individual and mixes his love of physics and engineering into his passion for baseball.

His enthusiasm for drones, and infamous injury as a result of that tinkering, likely need no additional publicity but is another aspect of his game which I find so fascinating.

All kinds of scientific methods and endless amounts of research are pored into his pitching and it showed last season as he registered massive improvements in a career year.

His own assessment of his exceptional 2017 campaign was typically brilliant Bauer.

“I didn’t win the Cy Young so the season was a failure in my eyes and the standard I hold myself to is being the best pitcher in baseball,” he told Jordan Bastian in an interview.

“If I’m not [the best] then I need to go figure out why not because I have to be that next season or it is another failure. I’ll only play the game for a certain amount of time and have limited seasons where I can achieve my goals.”

His spring training preparations this year and determination to avoid another ‘failure’ saw him enter into a fascinating experiment.

It bordered on almost turning himself into a Frankenstein pitcher as he looked at some of the best pitches from his contemporaries in the game and wondered if they could be applied to his own game.

Despite having a particularly devastating curveball of his own, he pondered how he might improve if he were to ‘steal’ the breaking ball of teammate Corey Kluber or Stephen Strasburg’s wipe-out change-up.

That almost borders on a video game approach to pitching from someone who seeks to create the perfect pitcher but that is the kind of meticulous and thoughtful individual we are dealing with in the former No. 3 overall draft pick.

Even in an Indians side which has toiled so far in 2018, Bauer has continued to impress and is worth 1.5 WAR and is the owner of a 2.59 ERA across his 59 innings so far.

A pitcher of that quality, a man who memorably played through the pain barrier in the 2016 ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, was almost lost to the game in 2012 before his trade to Cleveland due to a disillusionment with life in Arizona.

While some may have welcomed that, it would have truly been a travesty as the game of baseball is richer for his presence.

I may be in the minority but I’m a fan of Trevor Bauer. And unashamedly so.

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