Last month, Mike Petriello of MLB.com wrote an article about pitchers around the league who have ace-level stuff. Many of these pitchers are names that you wouldn’t think compare to some of the aces in the game currently.
One of the examples Petriello referred to included Shane Bieber and his curveball. As Petriello highlighted in his piece, “[Bieber’s] curveball was tied for the most valuable in baseball in 2020.” If you look at the data compiled by Baseball Savant, it shows that Bieber’s value on his curveball was tied with that of German Marquez of the Colorado Rockies. Both pitchers had a minus-10 Run Value rating on that pitch.
Furthermore, Petriello indicated that there are a number of other pitchers around the league who resemble Shane Bieber’s curveball as well. Some of those individuals include Lance McCullers Jr. of the Houston Astros, Michael Lorenzen of the Cincinnati Reds, and a well known pitcher with the New York Yankees – Gerrit Cole. Granted, the Cleveland Indians have Bieber under control at a much more affordable rather than that of Cole. However, both pitchers have similar makeup and effectiveness with their curveball, at least based upon this case study.
Deep Dive Into Shane Bieber’s Curveball
The American League Cy Young Award winner had a tremendous season in 2020. A lot of that was because of the success of his curveball. The right-hander posted a 1.63 ERA over a total of 12 starts or 77 and one-third innings of work. Looking solely at his curveball, Bieber allowed only eight hits with it.
Diving deeper, in total, Bieber threw 325 curveballs last season which translated to a total percentage of 26.3. That was up from his 2019 pitch usage percentage of 20.5. In addition, he averaged a velocity of 83.6 miles per hour (MPH) with that pitch and held opposing batters to a .095 batting average with it. For comparison sake, opponents hit .213 against his curveball in 2019. Granted, it was over a much larger sample (33 starts compared to the aforementioned 12). However, it is still very impressive.
On top of that, Bieber struck out a total of 50 batters with that pitch. If that was translated into Whiff Rate, it would represent a 51.5% value. Opposing hitters also had a hard time making contact and demonstrating power on the pitch as well. As a result, opposing teams accumulated a .143 slugging percentage against Bieber’s curveball over the 60-game sample.
American League Central vs. Bieber’s Curveball
Based on the stats mentioned above, it’s easy to see why opposing teams had such a hard time hitting Shane Bieber’s curveball. Although, let’s dive a little deeper and look at some specific starts where Bieber was relying heavily on that pitch.
In total out of the 12 starts, Bieber threw his curveball the most against the Minnesota Twins compared to any other American League Central opponent. During his first start against the Twins at the end of July, he threw that pitch 20.6% of the time. It had an average velocity of 82.7 MPH. Fast forwarding to his second start against Minnesota, he increased his reliance on the curveball to 28.4% with a 83.8 velocity value. During his final start of the regular season, he threw that pitch 34.9% of the time, while averaging a velocity of 84.7.
In turn, the Indians went onto win two of those three starts. During the first start against the Twins, Bieber went eight innings. However, the loss came during the final matchup when he was throwing his curveball the most, as indicated above.
Heading into the coming season, it will be fascinating to see if the Cleveland Indians and Shane Bieber implement the same game plan against the Minnesota Twins. It obviously worked very effectively in the shortened season that was 2020.
All in all, Shane Bieber experienced great success with his curveball last season. In fact, it was one of the leading reasons that he ended up winning the aforementioned AL Cy Young Award. For him to have a repeat performance of 2020, it will be important for him to rely heavily on that pitch once again this year.
Only time will tell what the stats will look like against Bieber’s curveball at the end of the season. However, based on the numbers presented above, it’s fair to say that he could once again have the most valuable curveball in all of baseball in 2021.
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Players Mentioned: Shane Bieber, German Marquez, Lance McCullers Jr., Michael Lorenzen, Gerrit Cole.