Trevor Bauer’s Bleeding Finger Was a Blessing in Disguise

As Trevor Bauer walked off the pitching mound at the Rogers Centre and into the visiting dugout in the first inning of Monday’s ALCS Game 3, his right pinky finger bleeding and leaving a trail of blood behind him with each step — like a wounded Hansel in the forest — the home crowd in Toronto erupted into cheer and applause. Some were genuinely clapping out of the good nature of their heart, giving support to the wounded athlete who gave it his all. Some had perhaps more malicious intent, jeering at the outspoken pitcher whose jabs at the Blue Jays fanbase on Twitter have persisted for months. And some were likely just cheering as fans of the Blue Jays, believing their home team’s win expectancy had just risen now that Cleveland’s bullpen had been forced into action following just two outs and four batters.

What that last group of fans might not have realized is that, in a one-game scenario, the introduction of Cleveland’s bullpen into the game actually represented an advantage for the Indians. That the Blue Jays likely had a much better shot at putting up runs by facing Bauer two, or even three times, than enduring a barrage of well-rested Cleveland relievers in four-out spurts for the entire game. That, as far as Game 3 was concerned, Bauer’s bleeding finger was actually a blessing in disguise for the Indians.

As soon as Bauer left the game, I pulled up the FanGraphs Slack channel and messaged managing editor Dave Cameron, telling him he’d again get to see his vaunted October bullpen game. The idea of a postseason bullpen game is something Cameron has been endorsing annually since 2012, and predicted we’d finally begin to see this year. Of course, we’ve already seen this once this postseason, with the Dodgers actually planning a bullpen game in Game 5 of the NLDS. Rich Hill was starting on short rest for the first time in his career, still fighting through his blister problems, and so despite his pitching well, the Dodgers turned to the bullpen in the third inning, Kenley Jansen in the seventh, and Clayton Kershaw in the ninth to close out the series.

The thinking behind Cameron’s logic is simple: on a per-batter basis, relievers are better at getting outs, based almost entirely on the nature of their role. They get to pitch at maximum effort, knowing they don’t have to save their arm to provide length in the way of eating innings, they can be deployed in a way that most often maximizes the platoon advantage, and perhaps most importantly, they don’t have to turn lineups over and give batters multiple looks at their repertoire, leaving them immune to the times-through-the-order penalty.

Consider this table, which shows this year’s results, and the current projected true-talent level of each of the seven Cleveland pitchers used in last night’s win:

Bauer and the Bullpen, Results and Projections
Pitcher 2016 ERA 2016 FIP 2016 E/F Proj. ERA Proj. FIP Proj. E/F
Andrew Miller 1.45 1.68 1.57 1.80 1.81 1.81
Cody Allen 2.51 3.31 2.91 2.99 3.01 3.00
Dan Otero 1.53 2.33 1.93 3.35 3.33 3.34
Zach McAllister 3.44 4.01 3.73 3.75 3.67 3.71
Bryan Shaw 3.24 3.94 3.59 3.70 3.76 3.73
Jeff Manship 3.12 5.11 4.12 4.10 4.28 4.19
Trevor Bauer 4.26 3.99 4.13 4.20 4.23 4.22
E/F: Even split of ERA and FIP

By an even split of ERA and FIP and on a per-batter basis, Bauer was the least effective Cleveland pitcher of the 2016 regular season used in last night’s game. He’s also projected to be the least effective pitcher moving forward. This isn’t meant to be a knock on Bauer; his job, of course, asks much more of him than the other six guys. It’s because he’s good enough to be a starter that he’s less effective on a per-batter basis. The rest of these guys used to be starters, too. Were Bauer a reliever, he’d likely find himself right in the middle of this pack.

But he’s not. And so instead of a Trevor Bauer who would’ve been pitching like a starter instead of a reliever, and who would’ve faced the top of the Blue Jays order as many as three times, the Indians became the first team in major-league history to win a playoff game with no pitcher recording more than five outs. While it may have felt like a defeat for Cleveland fans when they saw their starter leave the game after merely 21 pitches, throwing an onslaught of effective, maximum-effort, right-handed relievers at the righty-heavy Blue Jays lineup actually likely improved Cleveland’s odds, in a one-game sense, over a scenario in which Bauer is asked to go six innings.

Of course, that’s not to say this was the ideal situation for Cleveland through the lens of the series. If it were, they wouldn’t have started Bauer in the first place. This isn’t even the ideal way to do a bullpen game; the way the Dodgers did it, with Hill getting to go max-effort for a few innings, is how a team would ideally plan a bullpen game in October. The circumstances of last night’s game being what they were, the Indians had to use each of their six best relievers in the first night of potentially three consecutive games, potentially incurring performance dips in the short-term future, and also forcing ace Corey Kluber into pitching on short rest in Game 4, which ought to incur an expected performance dip from him, too. Of course, in the long term, Cleveland would’ve preferred things go as scheduled.

On the other hand, the Indians won Game 4, as they have now in four out of five bullpen games — some planned, some impromptu — and, perhaps, as should be expected, given the talent and depth in Cleveland’s bullpen, and the inherent advantage of deploying your pitchers this way in a one-game mindset. They’re now up 3-0, and with Kluber on the mound tonight, a victory could give everyone an extended layoff before the World Series, allowing the bullpen to recover from their 8.1 innings of work on Monday and potentially allowing Bauer’s finger time to heal.

In a sense, the Indians backed their way into continuing manager Terry Francona’s postseason-long strategy of “win the game in front of you at all costs, and worry about the future in the future.” It might not have been the way they drew it up, it might have felt defeating at the time, and it might leave them short-handed for the next two games, but as far as winning Game 3 goes, Francona and the Indians, in the most unique way possible, actually wound up putting themselves in the best position to win the game in front of them, thanks to a drone and a finger.

August used to cover the Indians for MLB and, but now he's here and thinks writing these in the third person is weird. So you can reach me on Twitter @AugustFG_ or e-mail at

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7 years ago

Is that tweet of Bauer’s you linked in the first paragraph really a jab at the Jays? Looks like a legitimate cheer for the Jays to beat Boston, so Cleveland can take home field advantage

7 years ago

Yes true, he’s been a troll all year (I actually think it’s funny though, even as a Jays fan).