Four out of every five days — well, until very recently anyway — the Indians rolled out a top-15 starter in baseball.
On that fifth day, once given over to the adventure that was Josh Tomlin, now we have Shane Bieber, who is good. It’s amazing to see a rookie with his comportment, his control and his quite approach to pitching. But even if he is surrounded by top flight starters, he isn’t that. Not that he couldn’t get there, but expectations (perhaps merely my own) need to be tempered. If only to be fair to him.
The problem is, there’s so much to be excited about. Obviously there’s the inflated ERA, 4.36 after his 6.2 innings of three-run, five-strikeout ball. His ERA dropped .01 points between the start of the game and his exit, and he’s allowing 10.1 hits per nine innings. That does look scary, but a cursory glance at what he’s doing just fails to ease any hopes.
Yeah, hits are certainly not good, but hitters just aren’t doing any damage with those hits. His 9.5 percent HR/FB rate is a bit lower than the league average 12.4 percent, but nothing that isn’t tenable over a season. His 44.8 percent grounder rate is precisely the mark Corey Kluber sits at this year, he strikes out batters at the same rate as Mike Clevinger (24 percent) and walks them half as much. He’s got the second lowest Fielding Independent Pitching among Cleveland starters at 3.02 and his 3.55 Skills Interactive ERA is lower than that of Clevinger and essentially equal to Phillies ace Aaron Nola and the Rays’ Blake Snell. So yeah, he gives up hits. Weak, nubby little hits. Who cares? It’s about the peripherals, man, the peripherals! Bad luck can only last so long. This is the hint of excellence at work.
In fact, Bieber is on track to set some pretty trivial history. If his FIP holds close to what it is and he keeps making regular starts, he’ll have the lowest Cleveland rookie starter FIP in at least 100 innings since 1911. Considering the history of Cleveland pitching, from Addie Joss to Bob Feller to Herb Score to Luis Tiant, it would be quite a feat.
So how are we not to be excited? This is an incredible debut. And when you watch him, the way he paints the edges of the zone and slowly expands it, the way he baffles elite hitters so early in his career, you can definitely see it and easily project.
Then there’s this:
Bieber batted ball profile comp
Yeah, that’s James Shields, this year. That is not quite the comp that you want for any pitcher. Not that it’s precise — Bieber gets more pitches in the zone which means he’s in more pitcher’s counts, which means less grooved pitches — but there’s a lot of similarity. So that could, I guess, temper some of the excitement around Bieber’s excellence. Though he’s on the ascent and learning how to pitch in the majors now, not playing out the string on a terrible team. And again, the peripherals. And the command. And his curve is pretty neat when he gets going. Man, he’s pretty good.
It’s not Bieber’s fault that some have high expectations every start out, but that’s the standard set by the rest of the rotation. And he’s living up to it for the most part, which is the most amazing. Who knows how it’ll all turn out, but he looks every bit the top flight starter. Two or three times now the Indians have pulled a nobody into their rotation the last five years and found someone with ace level stuff. The early goings suggest Bieber could be the best of them.
So what do I know — I guess just go nuts about the whole thing.