Entering the 2021 season, it never seemed possible that we could possibly do a countdown of top Guardians players and not have our second starting pitcher until No. 7. But here we are, and here is Shane Bieber.
Could Bieber, just 26 years old and in his fourth season in the majors, possibly have repeated the 1.63 ERA he put up over 77.1 innings last season? Probably not, but we’ll never get to know how close he could have gotten over a full 162 thanks to a bum shoulder knocking him out in mid-June. His final start before the injury was his worst: five earned runs over 5.2 innings against the Mariners. He would return for two more starts at the tail end of the season, allowing a combined one earned run with four strikeouts over six innings, but they were planned short starts when the Guardians were already well out of playoff contention.
What we saw out of Bieber early on was as vintage as could be, though. The right-hander racked up double-digit strikeouts in five of his first six starts — the only miss being a lowly nine strikeouts against the Yankees. When he struck out 13 Reds batters on April 18, he became the first pitcher since 1893 to record double-digit whiffs in his first four starts.
He also provided stability with at least six innings pitched in each of his first eight starts. A few walks were an issue — and he wasn’t stranding as many runners as he did last year — but by and large, this was the same Shane Bieber that dominated baseball in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. And what we saw may have only been the beginning.
Bieber all but abandoned his cutter early on in the year, despite using it 16.2% of the time in 2020. As Merritt Rohlfing noted while Bieber was in the midst of his record-breaking start to the season, he used the pitch just a handful of times in April. He began using it more in May and appeared to be slowly ramping up towards that 16% as his starts went on. Was he going to fold the pitch (and maybe more?!) into his repertoire to keep batters off-balance all season long? That seems like a very Shane Bieber thing to do, and I would have loved to watch it unfold.
- Shane Bieber: 96.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 33.1 K%, 8.1 BB%, 3.21 SIERA, 2.6 fWAR
- Aaron Civale: 124.1 IP, 3.84 ERA, 19.9 K%, 6.2 BB%, 4.41 SIERA, 0.8 fWAR
- Andres Gimenez: .218/.282/.351, 5 HR, 11 SB, 5.2 BB%, 25.7 K%, 73 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR
- Triston McKenzie: 120.0 IP, 4.95 ERA, 27.5 K%, 11.7 BB%, 4.36 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
- Eli Morgan: 89.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 21.4 K%, 5.8 BB%, 4.51 SIERA, 0.4 fWAR
- Zach Plesac: 142.2 IP, 4.67 ERA, 16.7 K%, 5.7 BB%, 4.73 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
- Bradley Zimmer: 227/.325/.344, 8 HR, 15 SB, 8.6 BB%, 35.1 K%, 89 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
Who should be our No. 8 Guardians player for 2021?
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