“Not Justin” Continues Showing Baseball Who He Really Is
Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber dazzled once again Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds. The 25-year old right-hander went 7 2/3 innings while allowing two runs, two home runs, and two walks on five hits. In addition, Bieber recorded eight strikeouts and threw a total of 106 pitches.
After allowing a home run to the third batter of the game, Nicholas Castellanos, Bieber settled in nicely. He kept cruising along until the bottom of the fourth inning when Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez hit his first home run of the year.
On the year, Bieber now has a 0.83 ERA through three starts. Furthermore, over that span, he has a .160 Opponent Batting Average Against along with a 14.54 K/9 rate.
In fact, Bieber has thrown so many strikes so far that he’s made history. Dating back to 1893, Bieber has the third-most strikeouts ever over the first three games in an MLB season. Nolan Ryan accomplished that feat with 37 K’s over his first three starts in 1973. Former Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole ranks second with 36 from the 2018 regular season.
So, what has made Bieber so effective thus far? Heading into the year, he looked primed to be the Cleveland Indians ace. However, no one likely saw numbers like this coming.
All About the Four-Seamer and Curveball
Shane Bieber relies heavily on a five-pitch repertoire. In that repertoire is a mid-90’s fastball, low-80s curveball, and an upper-80s slider, changeup, and yes a cutter. So far this season, he has relied on his four-seamer 39.7% and his curveball 34.8% of the time. That is vastly different compared to how often he relies on his slider, changeup, and cutter.
Bieber has just introduced the cutter into his pitch repertoire over his last two starts. Those starts came against the Minnesota Twins and aforementioned Cincinnati Reds. It isn’t a pitch that he heavily relies on (yet), but is still effective. Over both of those starts, Bieber threw his cutter 6.9% of the time.
Furthermore, Bieber has only thrown his slider at a 10.5% clip and has relied on his changeup 8.2% so far. Last year, he relied more on his slider compared to his curveball. Over 34 games last season, Bieber threw his slider 26.5% compared to his curveball 20.5% of the time. Although this year’s sample size is much smaller, that could be a big reason why Bieber has been so successful thus far.
Furthermore, both his four-seamer and curveball are featuring more spin than they did last season. In 2019, Bieber’s four-seamer had a spin rate of 2,254 RPM. So far this season, that value sits at 2,313 RPM. Beyond that, his curveball has a spin rate of 2,338 RPM this year compared to 2,303 RPM last year. As a result, there is simply more movement on both of those pitches for Bieber and in turn that is contributing to his success.
Beyond his reliance on the four-seamer and curveball along with the increase in spin rate, Bieber’s chase rate is also higher this year. Again, it’s a small sample size but so far his chase rate is setting at 34.5%. In contrast, last season he had a chase rate of 32.4%.
Additionally, when opposing teams hitters are chasing, they are having a hard time making contact. In 2019, opponents made contact on 44.9% of the pitches that they chased. On the other hand, so far this season that value sits at 30.0%.
Chase rate is significant because it refers to the pitches outside of the strike zone that a hitter swings at. Most of the time, those pitches are the bad ones that hitters chase. If Bieber is able to continue locating his pitches as he has so far, then he will continue having success as this season wears on.
Finally, Bieber has been very effective against both lefties and righties. He has held lefties to a batting line of .159/.179/.158. Against lefties, Bieber has recorded 14 of the total 35 strikeouts that he has on the year. Additionally, right-handers are hitting .162/.225/.324 when Bieber is on the mound. For a team like the St. Louis Cardinals or Detroit Tigers, Bieber’s effectiveness will pay huge dividends for the Indians. Although the Cardinals and Tigers lineups feature switch hitters, they are predominantly right-handed.
One of the best examples of Bieber’s effectiveness against lefties occurred during last week’s Minnesota Twins game. Left-handed hitting outfielder Eddie Rosario was up to bat and over three appearances, he struck out once and had two infield hits that resulted in outs. All three outs came low and away in the comparison to the strike zone.
In the end, the changes that Shane Bieber has made in regard to his reliance on the four-seamer and curveball as well as spin rate is working. Bieber has the makings of a true ace and is only starting to come into his true prime years this season.
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