The last time Shane Bieber allowed a run in a professional baseball game, the Cleveland Indians’ fabled win streak was still at just 11 games.
Okay, he didn’t play for nearly seven months after that, but what I said sounds way more dramatic than “Bieber hasn’t allowed a run in any of his first three starts this season.” Although now that I’m rereading that, damn, it still gets me pretty jazzed up. Bieber began the season ranked as our sixth-best Tribe prospect, with Matthew Bretz citing some minor concerns about how he’d hold up against better hitters being that he lives in the strike zone such a high percentage of the time. If he continues at anything close to this pace, he’ll shoot up a couple of spots by the middle of the season.
The Next Next Big Thing
The Tribe rotation already has an embarrassment of riches, and Bieber’s emergence is just the latest cherry on top. Only Triston McKenzie is considered a better pitcher in the entire farm system, and Bieber’s got some unique skills even McKenzie can’t claim.
Besides being an absolute run repellant so far this year, Bieber has sniper accuracy with his deep arsenal. Not only has Bieber not allowed a runner to cross home plate in 20 innings pitched, he also hasn’t allowed anyone a free trip to first base. What he has done is strike out 23 hitters, good for a 10.35 K/9 and a K/BB ratio of [undefined].
That’s not a new talent for Bieber, even if he’s kicked it up a notch lately. The budding command artist has now thrown a full season’s worth of professional innings (210 1/3), and the numbers are promising as hell. The righty sports a 2.40 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP Oacross that span, with 200 strikeouts against just 12 walks, two intentional. That 0.51 BB/9 in pro ball is absolutely magnificent; for reference, the lowest BB/9 in MLB last season was a 1.39 mark by Jeff Samardzija. Obviously Bieber isn’t facing the same quality of competition, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The fun stats don’t stop there, either. Here’s the stat that really jumps off the page: In 31 career starts above Rookie ball, Bieber has failed to go six innings just seven times. Of the remaining 24 starts, he allowed more than three earned runs on just three occasions. That’s a whopping 21 quality starts in 31 games, and minor leaguers are often held to shorter pitch counts than major leaguers. Last year, only seven pitchers in MLB had 21 quality starts or more, with Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander among them.
Make no mistake, Bieber is not Corey Kluber. He’s not likely to be anything close to that caliber of pitcher, to be perfectly frank. His velocity is mid-nineties at best, and none of his secondary pitches are plus offerings. But a ceiling of Jeff Samardzija or Rick Porcello could be in play, and that would be plenty good for a fourth-round pick. There’s a wealth of pitchers in front of him on the depth chart this year, and the Tribe has no reason to rush his development with a full rotation right now and a slew of viable starters available. Expect Shane Bieber to be a valuable contributor for the Cleveland Indians at some point in 2019.