Shane Bieber was supposed to be good this year. Whether fair or not, the role of ace was foisted on him in the wake of trades and injury, though to be fair he had earned it with a very good — and probably a little surprising — 2019.
He didn’t rest on last season’s laurels though, expanding his arsenal to include a near-unhittable breaking ball, plowing in a very nice cutter at the same time, and maintaining a level of command and control of the strike zone and his repertoire that would make Greg Maddux jealous. He’s been incredible — unhittable, a leader of a team that had to fight all the way to the end, and extremely fun to watch.
There’s nothing about him that doesn’t scream MVP.
This year was going to be weird when it came to awards voting. Sixty games is just enough time for a player to have some kind of truly incredible run, like when Giancarlo Stanton hit 33 games in 2017 or Josh Hamilton hit .427 over that same stretch back in 2010. Heck, the Indians went 43-17 over 60 games just last year, and that didn’t mean much when they spent October at home. There was a great chance to see some kind of outlier, and with the MVP candidates we’re seeing now, that’s certainly the case. I can understand José Abreu or José Ramírez, they’re both pretty good players. But Tim Anderson is a bit of a surprise, no? And that Mike Trout is merely a fringe candidate — and maybe not even the best player on his own team this year — so there’s a lot of indecision. It’s a bit of a logjam when it comes to position players. Nobody has really asserted themselves.
That’s why I’m convinced it has to be Bieber.
There’s no doubt that the Cy Young is going to Bieber. Every pitching stat that matters has him distantly in first. His 1.63 ERA is more than 40 points better than the second-place guy, his 3.2 fWAR is the best across the entire league regardless of pitcher or hitter, his 122 strikeouts are a runaway lead, the numbers go on like this.
He’s absolutely dominated the league, every time out. It’s not like it’s been easy goings, either, he’s crushed what were supposed to be dominant offenses. Against the Twins across 21 innings struck out 31 and allowed just 12 hits and five earned runs, he’s stifled the White Sox to the tune of 18 strikeouts and three earned runs across 11 innings, and when it came to beating up on the bad teams he did that too. The Royals didn’t score a run in 12 innings, notching just five hits and striking out 23 times. The Tigers “got to” him to the tune of a 1.84 ERA over 14.2 innings, whiffing 23 times. The list goes on without hiccup or stumble. When the egg a guy lays in a season is a six-inning, three earned run start that strikes out eight guys against the hottest lineup in baseball like Bieber did against the White Sox on August 9th, that’s a sign that something special is happening.
The MVP is that most irritating of awards in that we have to argue the meaning of “Valuable”. Which is kind of stupid. Is it the “best player on the best team”? Is it the guy with the best stats? Is it something else, like someone who does something incredible, dominating in an uncommon way? Everyone with a vote has a different view, that’s why the Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout argument when Cabrera won the Triple Crown was compelling. Right now, as said before, there’s a bunch of position players that you could look at and consider them the best, or the most impactful to a team, or any other thing.
But Bieber does have the best stats. He’s about lapped the field when it comes to pitching. He’s led a great pitching staff, which without him you’d probably not be looking at a playoff team. Imagine that rotation without Bieber, Plesac, and Clevinger when the latter two had their little wander in Chicago. That stretch of ten or so games may well have tanked the Indians if they’re trolling with Carrasco, Civale and some heap of replacement-ness. That’s got to mean something. He’s not the best player on the best team, but if we wanted to use that metric then Brandon Lowe is your MVP. The more you look into how people qualify their vote, the more this makes sense.
Some think that the MVP shouldn’t be a pitcher. That’s what the Cy Young is for, right? it helps that it’s so straightforward in its description. It’s merely for the best pitcher, simple as that.
Bieber has been more than that. He’s been must-watch viewing every game, he’s been truly dominant, nearly without blemish throughout the season, and an anchor in the midst of upheaval. Pitchers have to be truly remarkable to win an MVP, have to be above and beyond not just what’s expected, but above the competition and a vital keystone to the success of the team. Yes, he pitches in a truly stacked rotation. Even compared to them, he’s been remarkable. He’s been the best of the best, and that has to count for something even if the stats don’t quite do it for you.
That’s your MVP, right there.