Could Shane Bieber Win the Cy Young Award?
Shane Bieber is having quite a season. After entering 2019 as the projected fifth starter in the Indians rotation, all he has done is become an all-star, win the all-star game MVP, and assert himself as the top pitcher on a staff that includes Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and up until a week ago, Trevor Bauer. Oh, and he could find himself in the conversation for the AL Cy Young Award.
Of course, given the current state of things and the media’s infatuation with the Houston Astros, the award will likely come down to either Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander. Both have had phenomenal seasons and are more than deserving of the award. Additionally, the conversation will also include the Rangers’ Lance Lynn, the Rays’ Charlie Morton, and possibly even the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd and the Twins’ Jose Berrios. Needless to say, it’s a crowded field.
Here are the stat lines compiled for these pitchers as of today, 8/5/19.
As you can see, based on traditional metrics for how sports writers determine the Cy Young Award – Wins and ERA – Verlander is the clear leader. As of today, he has also thrown the most innings and kept the most runners off base thanks to a .168 average against and .81 WHIP. However, Cole is not far behind in any of those categories while also leading in strike outs and maintaining a slightly higher wins above replacement. Because of this, the narrative between Verlander and Cole is likely to flip flop several times before season’s end.
Split the Vote
Unfortunately for both Verlander and Cole, what makes their arguments so compelling could also be their undoing. As aces 1A and 1B of the best team in the American League, it is very likely they could split the vote and thus open the door ever so slightly for one of the other American League contenders to creep in.
This is where the argument for Shane Bieber begins to take shape. As much as sports writers like to reward “the best player on the best team” and winners of traditional stat categories, they also love taking the position of “what have you done for me lately?”
Well, all Shane Bieber has done and continues to do of late is dominate. Over the last 28 days, Bieber has thrown two complete games, one shut out, struck out 41 batters, and compiled a 2.92 ERA and .91 WHIP in five starts. He’s been nearly unhittable as opposing batters have slashed .203/.259/.301 with a .559 OPS. Oh, and there’s that aforementioned All-Star game MVP award. Not that it should count for anything, but writers who love to tell stories may be hard pressed to ignore it.
Shane Bieber also has the benefit of time to further improve his Cy Young resume. With anywhere from 8 to 10 more starts before the end of the season, Bieber could be close to 20 wins with 300 strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA. Again, that is an optimistic view while also considering Bieber maintains his current pace in terms of performance and innings pitched. At the end of the day, his line may be indiscernible from either Verlander or Cole.
Could the AL Central Swing the Vote in Bieber’s Favor?
One final factor to consider is how the AL Central race plays out with just under two months left to go in the season. It will be hard for voters to ignore the contributions and value of Shane Bieber should the Indians climb all the way back to the top of the division after trailing by as many as 11.5 games. It will be especially difficult for voters to ignore should Bieber be the one leading the charge and dominating in his final starts of the season.
I believe that the other potential candidates for the AL Cy Young will be an after thought for a similar reason.
Charlie Morton, Lance Lynn, and Matthew Boyd have all had great seasons. Unexpected seasons really. But at the end of the day their teams are either teetering on the brink of falling out of playoff contention (Rays), have already fallen out of the race (Rangers), or were never in the race to begin with (Tigers). And while a team’s final standing shouldn’t have an impact on a personal award, it often times does.
Jose Berrios remains the other question mark. He has been the unquestioned ace and leader of a Twins staff that looked like a lock for the AL Central title just over a month ago. Berrios, much like Bieber, has gotten better as the dog days of summer wear on. But, can his performance overcome that of the team around him? Or, could the possible usurpation of their division lead be seen as a negative?
But Will it Even Matter?
At the end of the day, the award really is Cole and Verlander’s to lose. They have all of the momentum, all of the name recognition, and all of the national media behind them. And if one of them does win the award it will be hard to argue against. Their seasons really have been that good.
But, if Shane Bieber did find a way to sneak into the conversation and ultimately win the award it would be quite the story to tell. The rapid ascension would be unparalleled – fifth starter to all-star MVP to staff ace and CY Young winner. And all in a six month span. Who could have seen that coming back in April?