The debut of a highly touted prospect is always exciting. All of Tribedom was alight when Francisco Lindor broke onto the scene a few years back, and while the murmur was a bit quieter when it was Bradley Zimmer or Mike Clevinger’s turn, it’s still neat to see what these names we’ve read about for a few years look like in real life.
Shane Bieber is not quite that.
It’s rare a fourth rounder sets the world on fire or forces his way into his first big league start after only two years in the minors, but that’s where we are. He’s been surprisingly dominant with the RubberDucks and Clippers. He’s starting Thursday night in Cleveland. What if he’s good?
Of course that would be great. Everyone wants more good starting pitching. More good players are always good for baseball. The Indians have been particularly blessed in that respect the last several years. Somehow they’ve been able to swallow losing an All-Star that hits 98 with one of the best changeups in baseball without missing a beat. Somehow their fourth best pitcher — a trade return for a relieve that’s out of baseball — is ace material on a third of the teeams in baseball. Another great starting pitcher would simply be another dollop of icing on top of an amazing cake.
But what if he’s, like, really dominant? He’s been just that in the minors. Comparisons have been made to Corey Kluber in terms of Bieber’s approach to the game, but Kluber never even approached the rock bottom walk rates Bieber has shown in the minors. And their K/9 numbers are at least comparable. At this point the prospect is replicating the feats of Roy Halladay, and then some.
In 246 innings he’s walked 15 batters, and that includes two intentional free passes. The Indians have a pitcher like that on the staff already in Josh Tomlin, but the most Tomlin ever struck out in the minors was 7.7 per nine, nearly a strikeout less than Bieber’s shown. It’s incredible looking at his K/BB ratio, currently sitting in the 16’s as he makes his way to Cleveland.
So say Bieber comes up and dominates. Something akin to Danny Salazar’s debut, a six-inning affair with seven strikeouts and one earned run. Francona has said that this is definitely a spot start, that no matter what the pitcher is headed back to Columbus after the game. But if he really comports himself in stunning fashion, what happens? Does he stay with the team?
Then there’s the fact that the Indians will have developed yet another great starting pitcher. Which is great. Again, it’s the hardest thing to do in the game, and it’s been the backbone of the varying levels of dominance they’ve demonstrated over the last few years. Other teams would kill for even half their starter development success. Say Bieber does turn into Clevinger without the walks — effectively a 2015 Corey Kluber. What are they doing so right, that doesn’t work with relief pitchers? On the Let’s Talk Tribe podcast this week, Matt and I talked a bit about this. Is it simply that the Indians draft these big command guys, and develop the velocity in the system? Trevor Bauer and his friends at Driveline Baseball have shown you can gain velocity through training. It’s not just innate all the time.
So maybe that all has something to do with what would be a third or fourth pitcher to come from nowhere in the Indians system. One of the reasons he’s never popped up on prospect lists is his lack of any specifically dominant offering. He’s just always commanded all his pitches, and has added some velocity to it all. That’s the bones of a great starter. It’s hard to see whether that would make a great reliever.
At he end of the day if Bieber is really good, it’s a cause for celebration. The Indians’ iron grip on the first six innings is reaffirmed. It just doesn’t solve the big problem. It’s nice to have more of the same nice things you already have. But it’s like the Yankees trading for Giancarlo Stanton, only his impact is more marginal. It’s just more disgusting concentration of power and wealth in places where it’s already focused. Of course, if he’s that good they could just trade him for a reliever. Or trade Carrasco or any of their pitchers because they’re all on amazing contracts. We all want Shane Bieber to be good. Based on the Indians’ track record lately, I expect him to at least be pretty good. It just doesn’t change much in the moment, is all. Not like that’s a bad thing. It just is.