Just four years ago the Cleveland Indians picked up Shane Bieber in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Little did the Indians know they were selecting their future ace.
Just two years later, Bieber made his big-league debut after soaring through the minors. That first year in the majors (2018) was a learning process for the now 25-year-old, compiling an 11-5 record with a 4.55 ERA. But he showed promise, consistently pounding the zone while racking up 118 strikeouts in just 114.2 innings.
It really clicked for Bieber in 2019, as he finished with a 15-8 record and a 3.28 ERA in 33 starts which included three complete games and two shutouts. He also logged an impressive 1.7 walks per nine innings, while striking out 259 hitters in just 214.1 innings. To top it off, the hard-throwing righty was named an All-Star in his first full season in the bigs, while finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting. At that rate, it looked as if Bieber could only improve. By no surprise, that’s exactly what he has done so far in 2020.
Cy Young-Type Season so Far
Now, it’s easy to jump to conclusions because Bieber has only made five starts this year. But considering his steady development over the last two seasons, this could end up being his best campaign yet. Bieber is a perfect 4-0 so far, posting a 1.30 ERA while striking out 54 batters in just 34.2 innings. To boot, he has only given up six free passes. The Cleveland ace has also already struck out 10 or more hitters in three starts, holding opponents to a dismal .160 batting average.
Bieber’s fastball is up a tick from last season as well, consistently sitting around 94 mph while touching 95-96 mph when he rears back. What makes him such a special arm is the fact that he can throw all his pitches for strikes. Bieber throws his sharp breaking ball at any point in the count, whether he wants to get ahead of a hitter or put him away. The heater is the most used pitch at 33.9 percent, followed by the curveball at 25.6 percent. The All-Star also mixes in a cutter in the high 80s, while also occasionally throwing a changeup and slider.
While 94 mph doesn’t seem like it’s so fast that Bieber should be constantly blowing it by major leaguers, it’s his ability to spot up with the pitch that makes him so effective. Thanks to a smooth, deceptive delivery where he hides the ball well, Bieber is outstanding at painting the black with the fastball. Seldom does he get behind hitters either, always giving himself the chance to put away oppositions with his knee-buckling breaking ball. Half of Bieber’s strikeouts this year have come off the curve. He has also done a tremendous job of keeping the ball down in the zone, which has resulted in a 50.8 percent ground-ball rate.
Bieber is One of The Reasons Cleveland Traded Corey Kluber
Corey Kluber was brilliant for several years in an Indians uniform, serving as their ace for several years. But after an injury-riddled 2019 campaign where he pitched just 35 innings, Cleveland decided to move on. One huge reason they decided to get rid of Kluber was the rapid rise of Bieber as their new go-to guy in the rotation.
Bieber is first in the major leagues in innings pitched and strikeouts and third in ERA this season. It’s still early, but in a 60-game season, he’s looking like a good bet to give Gerrit Cole a run for his money for the AL Cy Young. At the young age of 25, there’s a lot to look forward to with Bieber. Pinpoint command with all his pitches and the ability to ramp it up into the high 90s: what more could you want?
Shane Bieber needs to be considered one of the top starting pitchers in MLB right now.
All advanced stats courtesy of Baseball Savant