The Cleveland Indians undertook an offseason that was frankly embarrassing for a team that has designs on the World Series. The trades they were a part of didn’t much move the needle, and despite being far under the luxury tax threshold their marquee free agent addition was a DH who was thought to be out of the league for good and all (Hanley Ramirez).
The front office, no doubt, was betting on the powerhouse rotation carrying them to yet another title in the weak AL Central. That’s not a bad bet, to be sure, but that plan suffered this week when ace-in-the-making Mike Clevinger was.
The Tribe still knows what it has in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, but now it needs Shane Bieber to step into Clevinger’s breach. On Thursday against the surprising Tigers, Bieber did just that:
Bieber didn’t allow a hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning, and just two Tigers reached second base in the entire game. Bieber’s ERA for the season now stands at 1.80, and he’s struck out more than 30 percent of opposing batters (an excellent figure for a starting pitcher).
This isn’t out of nowhere. Bieber, soon to turn 24, was originally a fourth-round pick in 2016 out of UC-Santa Barbara, and he was absolutely dominant across parts of two minor-league seasons (2.24 ERA and a 13.68 K/BB ratio across 49 starts and one relief appearance in the Cleveland farm system). In his rookie season of 2018, he was roughly average in terms of run prevention, but his 5.13 K/BB ratio and 3.23suggested better days were ahead. Thus far, 2019 has occasioned those better days.
At a stuff level, Bieber checks all the boxes. His fastball sits at 93-94, which is slightly above average, and he also has deep command of four pitches, including a mid-80s slider and a changeup that keeps lefties honest. Longer term, Bieber gives the Cleveland the potential for an absolutely stuffed rotation one through five once Clevinger gets back. In the meantime, Bieber can help them withstand the absence of Clevinger, which is certainly what he did on Thursday.