Shane Bieber didn’t allow more than three runs in a start through the entire 2020 season. He only lost once. He struck out double-digit batters more often than he didn’t. That triple threat of pitching mastery meant that the Indians’ ace officially made history with the conclusion of the MLB regular season Sunday. Bieber claimed the MLB pitching Triple Crown by leading both leagues in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
All that’s left for Bieber is to claim the American League Cy Young award, which seems like a shoo-in with Bieber’s dominance across the major statistical categories. Before the results of Cy Young voting are announced, though, Bieber will look to lead the Indians through an expanded MLB postseason field. That begins with a Game 1 start at home against the New York Yankees on Tuesday night.
Breaking down Shane Bieber’s 2020 season
Let’s start with the Triple Crown numbers: Bieber went 8-1 with 122 strikeouts and a 1.63 ERA. In a shortened season, that strikeout number might be hard to put into context. If we multiply Bieber’s 14.2 K/9 across the 214.1 innings he pitched in 2019, that would add up to 338 strikeouts across a 162-game season. In other words, a lot.
Bieber’s dominance didn’t stop with those Triple Crown numbers, though. He had a WHIP of 0.866, allowing less than a hit or walk per inning pitched. That’s a number most often flirted with by relief pitchers, not a starter who went at least five innings every time he took the mound. At this point, it shouldn’t be shocking to learn that Bieber was good at limiting home runs, too, allowing 0.8 homers per nine innings.
In all, Bieber led the American League in wins (8), winning percentage (.889), ERA (1.63), strikeouts (122), ERA+ (281), fielding-independent pitching (2.07), fewest hits allowed per nine innings (5.4), and strikeouts per nine innings (14.2).
How did Shane Bieber get this good?
Bieber was a walk-on at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He’s soon to be a Cy Young winner. That’s not the most common path to pitching glory.
When Bieber arrived at UC-Santa Barbara, he threw in the mid-80s, according to The Athletic. But he earned a walk-on spot, then soon after the No. 3 starter role, and was given a scholarship shortly after. The Gauchos made their first appearance in the College World Series two years later, with Bieber as the staff ace.
The Indians picked him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of UC-Santa Barbara, and that’s when Cleveland’s minor league pitching development factory took over. Bieber’s strikeouts per nine innings rose each of his three seasons in the minors (2016-2018), despite rising in level each season. He started the 2019 season on the Indians roster at the back-end of the rotation, but he went on to make the All Star Game and earn game MVP honors at his home ballpark.
Bieber’s velocity is far from the mid-80s he threw upon arrival in college. His four-seam fastball averages 94.1 miles per hour. He also mixes in a curve, cutter, slider and changeup. The four non-four seam pitches all have whiff rates of at least 33.3 percent — batters swing and miss at Bieber’s slider more than 60 percent of the time, according to Statcast, the fourth-best single-pitch whiff rate in baseball this season.
Shane Bieber, postseason ace?
Bieber has never made a postseason start. He’ll make his first Tuesday night at 7 p.m. against the Yankees. Bieber will lead a Cleveland team now holding the longest World Series drought in the major leagues, with their last title coming in 1948.
The last time the Yankees and Indians met in the postseason was 2017. New York knocked Cleveland out of the Division Series that year, winning the deciding fifth game to move on with a 3-2 series win.
Despite injuries throughout the year, the Yankees have mostly returned to health and have one of baseball’s most formidable lineups. They’ve only faced Bieber on limited occasions, with their active roster combining for a 6-for-25 (.240) career mark against him with only one home run (by Brett Gardner).
In the opening round of the playoffs, with three-game series, Game 1 will possess as much potential to swing momentum as any postseason series in MLB history. The Indians know one thing: They’ll have the best pitcher in the game on the mound pitching for them.
History of MLB pitching Triple Crown
The pitching Triple Crown has been accomplished 39 times overall, but to narrow it down to Bieber’s feat of leading both the American and National Leagues in each statistical category, Bieber is the 13th player to accomplish the feat.
The other 12 times a player, aside from Bieber, has won the MLB pitching Triple Crown are as follows:
- Walter Johnson, Washington Senators, 1913
- Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia Phillies, 1915
- Walter Johnson, Washington Senators, 1918
- Dazzy Vance, Brooklyn Robbins, 1924
- Lefty Grove, Philadelphia Athletics, 1930
- Lefty Grove, Philadelphia Athletics, 1931
- Hal Newhouser, Detroit Tigers, 1945
- Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1963
- Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1965
- Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1966
- Dwight Gooden, New York Mets, 1985
- Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins, 2006