After an injury-shortened 2021 season, what can the Guardians expect from ace Shane Bieber in 2022?
Shane Bieber is, of course, the best pitcher in Cleveland and arguably a top-five starter in Major League Baseball. He’s had a fantastic start to his career, winning a Cy Young and the pitching Triple Crown in the 2020 shortened season. Unfortunately, he got hurt last year and only made 16 starts. Still, he pitched 96 innings and had 134 strikeouts with just 34 walks. His ERA was 3.17 and his FIPP was 3.03.
Bieber was drafted in the fourth round by Cleveland in 2016 and has hit the ground ever since. In 2018, he was called up and won 11 games in 20 starts. He pitched 114 innings with 118 strikeouts. He had an ERA of 4.55, but a FIPP of 3.23 (his defense wasn’t doing him any favors in his rookie season). Bieber made an impact right away and Cleveland knew they found a steal. His fastball tops out at 96 mph and averages around 93-94. His curveball is his second-best pitch, with his slider right behind it. He also throws a cutter and changeup less than five percent of the time.
In 2019, Bieber broke out, finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young voting in just his second season. He had 259 strikeouts in 214 innings with an ERA of 3.28, and his FIPP was 3.64. He started 33 games that season, which is the most of his career.
In 12 starts during 2020, Bieber pitched 77 innings and had eight wins, 122 strikeouts and an incredible ERA of 1.63. It would’ve been awesome to see what would’ve happened during a full season – would he have kept up that pace? Most likely not, but he very well could have still won the Cy Young.
Bieber’s curveball was the main reason for his success in 2020. He threw it 26% of the time and hitters had a batting average of under .100 against it. He got 50 strikeouts on it, which was the most on any of his pitches. The expectations were that he would defend the crown in 2021, but his shoulder injury derailed that dream. The one troubling trend is his curveball wasn’t as effective last season. Opponents’ batting average against it increased to .233, which was more than double that of 2020. He was also giving up a lot more hard contact.
Going forward, what can be expected from Bieber in 2022 and beyond? He is still an ace this team should build around. He’s projected to earn $4.8 million in arbitration and is under team control for three more seasons. The problem is that he will be due for a hefty raise the next few seasons. Of course, this will bring up the question of whether or not the Guardians should trade him if they aren’t going to extend him. If they can’t afford him, they’ll have to trade him sooner than later, even if he is a player they should keep for his entire career.
If the Guardians were to trade him to a team that would make sense, let’s consider the Seattle Mariners, who could headline the package with their top prospect outfielder Julio Rodriguez. Rodriguez is an impressive five-tool player who is the second-ranked prospect in all of baseball. They could also offer outfielder Kyle Lewis and starting pitcher Chris Flexen as a throw-in for rotation depth. This would give Cleveland two outfielders that they desperately need and provide them a solid-enough pitcher to help replace Bieber in the short term.
Next season, I could see Bieber having an ERA in the 2.90-3.10 range with 220 strikeouts in 180 innings pitched. He’s still in his prime and he’s capable of winning another Cy Young or two with Cleveland. Will that be enough to help the Guardians contend in what should be a new playoff landscape?