Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber off to another historic start
The Cleveland Indians have become a byword for outstanding pitching over the past eight seasons. Since 2013, Tribe pitchers have won three Cy Young Awards, or four if you were to include Trevor Bauer who also won the award last year, and owes a lot of his success to the Cleveland organization.
Cleveland’s most recent recipient is Shane Bieber. ‘Not Justin’ became the first Tribe pitcher, and ninth pitcher since 2000, to claim the award with a unanimous vote by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Tribe’s ace compiled an 8-1 record alongside a miniscule 1.63 ERA through 77.1 innings. By season’s end, he led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts (122). He also finished fourth in MVP-voting.
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Bieber’s dominance in 2020 can best be illustrated by two historic feats: the first came on July 30 when he tied Karl Spooner (I know, who?) for most strikeouts through a pitcher’s first two starts in a season (27). The second achievement was striking out eight-plus batters in each of his 12 starts, the longest streak of its kind since Pedro Martinez completed a nine-game stretch in 1999.
Since being selected in the fourth round of the 2016 amateur draft, the 6-foot-3′ right-hander out of UC Santa Barbara, has been sensational at every level of professional baseball. Bieber was part of the stellar Indians’ 2016 MLB draft class which also included Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale – two talented, young hurlers, in their own right, who have had impressive starts to their careers with the Cleveland Indians. Of the three, Shane Bieber showed the most promise early and it’s carried over to the majors. Bieber demolished minor-league hitting to the tune of a 16-6 record and 2.24E RA, while amassing 260Ks in 277 innings pitched during his two-plus- year career in the minors.
He rocketed up the pro baseball ranks en route to his Major League debut, which came in 2018. That first taste of the big leagues was a double celebration for the Bieber clan as it came on the day of his 23rd birthday, May 31. That day he tossed five and two-thirds innings, striking out six in a no-decision versus the Minnesota Twins.
Bieber concluded his rookie year with a 11-5 record, a 4.55 ERA, and 118 strikeouts over 114 and two-thirds total innings. He never looked back. In 2019 he took a gigantic leap; sandwiching a 214-inning, 15-win, 259-strikeout sophomore season including an All-Star Game MVP performance that announced him to the wider baseball world. Then last year, he added the AL Cy Young feather to his cap.
Now, in 2021, Bieber has begun the season in a remarkably similar vein to his historic 2020 campaign. First, he matched his own record by opening another season with 12+ strikeouts in each of his first two starts; an honor shared only with Nolan Ryan (1978) and, that Karl Spooner (1954) guy again. Now, after his third start in 2021, he is 1-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 35 punch-outs through 21 and a third innings; leading the league in the latter two categories. The 35 strikeouts through those first three starts equaled his total through the three contests last season. That strikeout total is good enough for third all-time behind Gerrit Cole (36 in 2018) and, the strikeout king, Nolan Ryan (37 in 1973).
Additionally, on April 13, in a stunning pitchers’ duel with the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito, the 26-year-old Bieber reached his 15th consecutive game pitched with eight-plus strikeouts, dating back to the start of 2020, when he went nine innings and fanned 11. The milestone captured the franchise record; supplanting his former teammate, Corey Kluber, for the top spot. The strikeout total against the White Sox also exceeded a threshold which gave Bieber another accolade. Once again alongside Ryan (1973) and Cole (2018), he became one of only three pitchers to record more than ten strikeouts in each of his first three starts in a season.
Phew! I need to catch my breath after reeling off such an extraordinary resume for a guy in just his fourth season as a Major Leaguer. There’s no telling how many more obscure, and historic, baseball records will fall victim to Bieber each time he toes the rubber. For Cleveland fans, it is his presence as the anchor for one of the best rotations in baseball that is his most valuable trait. The delight in watching one of baseball’s brightest stars continue to mow down hitters, and tear up the record books is an added bonus.