Trevor Bauer's novel approach to baseball is manifested in word choices that typically don't appear in a major league clubhouse. Some pitchers find it mentally taxing to embrace the concept of "spin rate.'' Bauer is the only one who'll spend the offseason trying to pick up a slider and fretting about the "laminar flow'' and "Magnus force'' required to make the pitch achieve its purpose.
Bauer's innovative take was destined to brand him as a loner, but to his consternation, he has gained an even more notorious designation as a drag on clubhouse camaraderie. Since his days as a star pitcher at UCLA and a 2011 first-round draft pick, he has read and heard that he is aloof and a bit of a mope. Rather than stew over the characterization or become defensive, he did what he usually does when confronting a problem: He turned it into a science project.
"I love direction and an answer,'' Bauer told ESPN.com. "I just get this reputation of being a bad teammate, but no one would come in and tell me why. So a couple of years back, I went and asked five or six teammates, 'What makes me a bad teammate?' And I couldn't get a straight answer. Either they didn't want to tell me to my face or they didn't know.
"So I just had to try to figure it out, and one of the things I found out is that I'm quiet. If I'm around people I don't know well -- if I'm at a bar or I'm hanging out with a group of people I don't know or whatever -- I'm quiet. I don't say a lot. I listen. I watch. I observe.
"Because I was drafted high, I got the reputation of being conceited, like I'm too good for this person or that person. That's not the case, but I learned that I had to talk more. So now I joke with people all the time, 'When I didn't say anything, I was bad. But now that I tell you how much you suck, I'm good.' How does that make any sense?''
As Bauer raises his profile by pitching better on the mound, he's straying from his cocoon and embracing his surroundings off it. Throwing a baseball is the same solitary pursuit that it has always been. But on the four days between starts, it's comforting for Bauer to know he's no longer on an island.
The numbers are a testament to Bauer's professional growth. He made strides last year, with a career-high 10.0 strikeouts per nine innings, a 3.2 WAR and 17 wins -- a number he dismisses as totally irrelevant. Entering Wednesday night's start against Jon Lester and the Cubs at Progressive Field, Bauer is rolling along with a 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, .622 OPS against and 27 strikeouts in his first 20 innings.
Bauer's ascent, coupled with the development of Mike Clevinger, puts the Cleveland rotation in a conversation with the groups in Houston, Washington, Boston and Arizona as one of the best in the game. Of all those contingents, no one comes close to the diverse range of personalities found under a single clubhouse roof at Progressive Field.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland's staff ace, is so outwardly pulse-free that you wouldn't know if he just won the lottery or learned he's the target of an IRS audit. The Indians describe Kluber as a stealth prankster, but fans would never get that impression when they see him standing stone-faced in the All-Star Game introduction line or reacting to his AL Cy Young Award announcement without even a trace of a smile.
Kluber's stoicism is offset by the easygoing manner of Carlos Carrasco, who is eminently approachable and exudes the same sense of joy whether reflecting on a complete-game shutout or passing his U.S. citizenship test. Carrasco answers to the nickname "Cookie,'' which was given to him by former Indians closer Chris Perez in 2011, after Carrasco celebrated a 1-0 win at Yankee Stadium with a snack of cookies and milk. It suits him perfectly.
Bauer (rhymes with "dour") is the complex, contradiction-laden member of Cleveland's Big Three. He's passionate yet outwardly reserved, a former mechanical engineering major in a world populated more by doers than deep thinkers. One minute he's lamenting all the criticism he receives for being so outspoken. Then he responds to every interview question as if he has been injected with truth serum.
"People get the wrong impression about me,'' Bauer said. "They think I'm elitist or I'm conceited or whatever. But I'm a really good person. I take care of my friends and my family. I'm kindhearted. I'm a better person than a lot of people I'm surrounded by. I'll get chewed up for saying that, but it's true.''
Two under-the-radar acts of charity are a testament to Bauer's selflessness. As a tech geek and avid drone pilot, he keeps tabs on other members of the fraternity and was distressed to learn that one online acquaintance lost his house in a fire during the offseason. So Bauer gathered up $17,000 worth of computers and camera equipment and sent it to the man so he could get his life in order and begin earning an income again.
In 2016, a turbulent period when law enforcement officials were under siege across the U.S., Bauer's social conscience and benevolent side coalesced, and he bought a suite for 26 police officers who were in Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.
Bauer being Bauer, the conventional approach never suffices. After settling for $6.525 million in salary arbitration this year, he was committed to give something back. So he conceived a campaign called "69 Days of Giving,'' marked by personal daily pledges of $420.69 and a final grand donation of $69,420.69 to a charity of his choosing. The off-color joke and marijuana reference were part of his plan.
"If I say I'm giving $100,000 to charity, everybody will be like, 'Oh, that's cool,' but no one will report it,'' Bauer said. "As soon as I attach obnoxious numbers like 69 and 420 to it, and I say in an article that I'm doing it to troll the establishment or whatever, now people latch on to it because they're like, 'That's funny,' and it catches more attention. So now it's a national story instead of just a one-hour story where everyone forgets about it.''
At a time when many athletes dispense sanitized quotes for fear of wading into controversy, Bauer is refreshingly fearless about challenging baseball orthodoxy and authority figures. Last year, he called out White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia for griping about his pitch selection during a head-to-head confrontation. Twice in the span of a month this spring, he took aim at MLB for allegedly censoring him on Twitter and making his life more difficult with the new "Rob Manfred B.S.'' pace-of-play rules.
Bauer's strong political opinions landed him in the middle of a Twitter hornet's nest in February 2017, but his social media presence also provides a forum for his wry sense of humor. If he's not wearing a blue wig in support of Duke University hoops, he's making fun of the platinum blond haircut that Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor sported upon arrival at spring training.
- Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 17, 2018
He has a writer's power of observation and an artist's sensibilities. Last summer, Bauer and Carrasco began goofing around with baseballs and cut-off Gatorade cups in the dugout, and a sensation was hatched. Their mini-baseball heads highlighting individual teammates' quirks became a source of clubhouse bonding and amusement among Tribe fans.
The Indians have taken note that Bauer no longer treats every base hit by an opponent as a personal affront. He has shown a willingness to engage along the dugout rail and to patiently answer questions during in-game interviews while teammates pelt him with sunflower seeds. And when someone else is being interviewed, he joins in on the pelting.
"He's made some adjustments along the way, and we've tried to, too, and I think it's working pretty good,'' Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think we ever try to mold people into being something they're not. As long as they show up, they work hard, they're good citizens and good teammates, we kind of let them be who they are.''
The overriding theme is Bauer's desire to press every conceivable advantage. When he arrived in Cleveland by trade from Arizona in late 2012 and extolled the benefits of playing long-toss from a distance of 420 feet or wearing headphones during his bullpen side sessions, it was easy to brand him as an iconoclast or an odd duck. As baseball becomes increasingly more enthralled with analytics and innovative training methods, he looks like a guy who was ahead of the curve.
No one in the Cleveland clubhouse will ever question Bauer's competitiveness. It was on display during the 2016 American League Championship Series, when he sliced his finger in a drone accident and bled all over the Rogers Centre mound in an abbreviated start against the Blue Jays. During a lengthy and insightful interview with SportsTimeOhio and MLB.com earlier this month, Bauer shared his early desire to win -- get this -- eight career Cy Young Awards.
"He's not scared at all,'' Indians reliever Andrew Miller said. "You saw it when he had that injury and pitched in Toronto. He wants the ball every time, and it's really impressive. I think that's one of the biggest hurdles for young players. I know I went through it. It's having confidence and wanting to go out there every single time. He's got no shortage of that. It's paying dividends for him.''
During Bauer's younger, more strong-willed and socially awkward phase with the Diamondbacks, catcher Miguel Montero chastised him for shaking off signs and tuning out advice from the veterans. But he has gradually developed a rapport with Indians catchers Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez.
"It took me a while to understand what he was trying to do and get on the same page,'' Perez said. "Man, he's in another world at times. But I'm just glad I got to know him as a pitcher and what he likes to do to a hitter and what his game plan is. It's been fun.''
For Bauer, compromise will never be confused with conventionality. When the Cleveland pitchers head to the bullpen en masse to watch each other's side sessions, Bauer is the only one carrying a shoulder tube. His teammates have learned to respect his idiosyncrasies, but he still elicits blank stares when he dives too deeply into the metrics.
"I don't want to talk about that,'' Carrasco said when asked about Bauer's love for advanced analytics. "It gets me crazy.''
Three years at UCLA and eight seasons of pro ball have taught Bauer the value of divergent viewpoints in a clubhouse. The adjustments required to be part of a productive workplace atmosphere are just as challenging as the time he logged at the Driveline training facility in suburban Seattle this offseason, trying to get a handle on a bouncing baby slider.
"I think if the clubhouse was full of Trevor Bauers, it would not be nearly as productive as if it's full of Kluber, Carrasco, Clevinger, Bauer, [Josh] Tomlin and all the other players,'' Bauer said. "Obviously, you need different personalities. You need different ways of going about things. Different experiences. Different approaches.
"Just in life in general, people like to feel part of a cause or something bigger than themselves. It gets lonely if it's just yourself. I know for me, personally, when I feel like I'm actually performing well enough to be considered part of the group, that makes me a lot more willing and able to interact like I'm part of the group.''
Singularly, Bauer's career is on the upswing, but the transition from outcast to one of the gang is almost as gratifying. He has discovered that his accomplishments mean more -- and his days at the ballpark are more fulfilling -- when he's surrounded by friends.