He was, statistically, the best and most dominant pitcher in the junior circuit, finishing with a 1.63 ERA, a 2.07 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and 14.20 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
This year, he has a 3.08 ERA in 79 frames, with a 2.86 FIP, and 13.33 punchouts per nine innings.
The ERA disparity between the two years have prompted the question: Is Shane Bieber overrated?
The answer is no, he is not overrated, and here is why.
3. Sample Size And Underlying Stats Matter
Despite not having a sub-2.00 ERA like last year, Bieber is arguably a top-3 pitcher in the AL, and his numbers will likely improve in the four remaining months of the season.
And, truth be told, a 2.86 FIP is still very, very good, so it’s not like Bieber has experienced a major skill loss year to year.
Maintaining a sub-2.00 ERA over a full season was going to be extremely difficult, anyway.
His 2020 ERA was otherworldly, and his 2021 ERA is very good.
There is a difference, sure, but that doesn’t mean he is not legit.
And, due to the small sample size in both cases, there is a chance that had there been a full 2020 season, he would have finished with similar numbers than the ones he has in 2021.
2. His Best Fastball Velocity Can Return With Warmer Temperatures
Another factor to consider with Bieber is the velocity gain he experienced on his 2020 fastball, on average.
After pitching around 93 miles per hour in both 2018 and 2019, his fastball velocity ticked up to 94.3 mph in 2020, which helped him unlock another level of performance.
In many cases, pitchers see their velocity increase in the summer months, and last season was played in July, August, and September.
It is possible that Bieber’s fastball velocity goes up as the temperatures go up.
In other words: It’s not out of the question that Bieber’s 2021 numbers, which are already good, can improve somewhat and approach last year’s level of dominance.
In any case, Bieber remains a good pitcher who is currently affordable and should not be considered overrated.
His stuff remains elite, he is still only 26, and doesn’t have a lot of mileage in his right arm.
Shane Bieber is the fastest in franchise history to reach 600 strikeouts.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) May 28, 2021
1. He Is Still Getting Swinging Strikes At An Elite Rate
Bieber’s knuckle curve remains one of the nastiest pitches in Major League Baseball, and certainly one of the toughest to hit.
Shane Bieber, 94mph Fastball (foul) and 83mph Knuckle Curve (swinging K), Overlay. 😳😳
If you look up "Pitch Tunneling" in the PitchingNinja dictionary, this would be it. 👇 pic.twitter.com/a3vydABHpS
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 1, 2021
Indians fans should have nothing to worry when it comes to Bieber, as long as he is on the roster and healthy enough to pitch.
It’s quite possible that, when the 2021 season is over, we will all be wondering whether Bieber is underrated.
His walk rate is slightly up this year (8.8 percent, from 7.1 percent last season) but his swinging strike rate (17.2 percent) and called strike rate (17.2 percent) are both up from last season.
Once he refines his command, he will be fine.