Every game matters for the Cleveland Indians as they chase the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central. Starting pitcher Shane Bieber took it upon himself to give his squad a series victory over the Baltimore Orioles with an absolutely dominant outing on Sunday.
The 23-year-old threw his first career complete-game shutout and struck out a career-high 15 hitters in the process. That performance led to some eye-popping statistics:
That’s what you call a good day at the office.
Although the young right-hander has already tossed 58.2 innings, this particular outing will help amp up his season-long statistics. He now owns a 3.22 ERA with a 29.4% strikeout rate and 5.5% walk rate, which has led to 1.1 fWAR. For comparison’s sake, he posted a 4.55 ERA with a 24.3% strikeout rate and 4.7% walk rate in 114.2 innings last year, leading to 2.7 fWAR.
The Indians certainly hope certain statistics will improve at some point, like his 1.59 homers allowed per nine innings and 43.7% hard-hit rate allowed. This rise in long balls can likely be attributed to a drop in ground-ball rate (46.6% to 40.3%) and rise in fly-ball rate (31.4% to 40.3%).
One would imagine that the improvements he’s made have counteracted some of the not-as-positive stats, though. There are two areas of his profile that immediately jump out in a good way: his current pitch mix and how often he’s throwing balls in the strike zone.
When comparing his rookie year to what he’s currently doing, Bieber is throwing significantly fewer fastballs:
The same can be said about Bieber’s zone percentage, too. After throwing pitches inside the strike zone at a 48.0% clip in ’18, that number is currently down to 38.7%. It’s one of baseball’s lowest rates among qualified pitchers heading into Monday’s games, and he can thank the increased usage of his slider and changeup for this.
Here’s a look at how the performance of his slider has changed from year to year in certain statistical categories:
And here’s the same look for Bieber’s changeup:
Outside of the chase rate for his slider in ’19, both of these pitches have seen a rise in strikeout rate, a drop in zone percentage, and a drop in opponent wRC+. These two offerings are the only ones in Bieber’s arsenal that have generated a chase rate of at least 40.0%. They’re also the only ones that have produced an opponent wRC+ below 100.
This perceived step forward in Bieber’s development is coming at a crucial time for Cleveland. The club’s starting rotation was once again anticipated to be a strength, but the unit has gone through some ups and downs: some early struggles from Carlos Carrasco, early struggles and an injury to Corey Kluber, as well as an injury to Mike Clevinger that’s forced him to miss more than a month.
A lot of things must go right for the Indians in order to reach the top of the AL Central standings, and the rotation performing up to expectation is certainly one of them. Bieber taking a step forward in his development is sorely needed for a club that’s trying to compete while also slashing payroll.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book and created an online class about how to get started as a sports blogger. Check those out and more helpful tips on sports blogging at his website.