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Over/Under 2021 Preview: Shane Bieber

Will Shane Bieber be worth more or less than 5.4 fWAR in 2021?

Kansas City Royals v. Cleveland Indians Photo by Joe Sargent/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Based on ZiPS projections, Shane Bieber is expected to finish 2021 with the following stats:

197.7 IP, 10.47 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9, 3.51 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 5.4 fWAR

Read what our writers think, then vote in the poll below and drop your own opinions in the comments and on the Let’s Go Tribe Discord.

Matt Lyons’s Prediction: OVER

The first week of doing these over/under previews has been an exercise in the importance of not just randomizing a list and then not double-checking to make sure you get an interesting order. After several relievers and a couple of fringe-y position players, I feel like we’re finally at the good stuff with Shane Bieber.

... and I will hammer the over on his projections until he proves them wrong.

In this case, ZiPS sees him following up his dominant 2020 Cy Young campaign with merely a very good one. Of course, I have no aspirations of him holding a 1.63 ERA over a full season, but 3.51 seems unusually cruel even if he finishes at 5.4 fWAR.

The two biggest changes ZiPS sees compared to last season are walking fewer batters — which is something he did all throughout his minor-league career — but also striking fewer out. I have little doubt he can bring his walk rate down closer to his 5.1% career average (down from 7.1% last year), but I also don’t think his ridiculous strikeout rate from 2020 is a mirage, either. Bieber is a master of five pitches, tunneling them at will and mirroring like a cheap carnival funhouse.

Maybe his home rate does go up, though, and he’ll average out to a little over one per game. But maybe the deadened ball coming to MLB stops that. One thing that will surely regress is his strand rate, which sat at 91.1% last year. But again, with fewer walks, it becomes less of an issue. He’s also still got a great defense behind him.

ZiPS puts him just short of 200.0 innings, but I would not bet against him crossing the two-century mark, as he reached 214.1 in 2019 and still had room to grow then. That year he put up a 5.6 fWAR and did not yet have the same strikeout stuff he displayed in his Cy Young season — most notably the devastating cutter/curvy thing he worked on in his pandemic-induced downtime last summer.

It’s difficult to parse out what in 2020 was a result of a shortened season and what was Bieber actually taking a massive leap forward, but I’m willing to buy into him being a legit star for years to come and outperforming this projection in the short-term.

Matt Schlichting’s Prediction: UNDER

Shane Bieber is obviously going to be the best pitcher for Cleveland and will be voted as an All-Star this season.

I take the under, simply because 5.4 fWAR is a high projection for anybody; historically it’s one of the highest for a starting pitcher since 2014. For 2021, it trails only Lucas Giolito (interesting) and Gerrit Cole (ooh) in the projection for all pitchers; he is just ahead of Jacob DeGrom (nice), Max Scherzer (dizzying), and Trevor Bauer ([redacted]).

I agree that he is in the right company here (with the exception of Giolito, whom I refuse to consider a legitimate contender for Best Pitcher in Baseball as of right now). He pitched as well as is humanly possible for 77.1 innings, accumulating 3.2 fWAR in 2020 while striking out 14.20 per nine with a .267 BABIP and an otherworldly LOB% of 91.1%.

This is where I start to side-eye the projections, a little. Those numbers are barely even sustainable for a reliever in the long run. Mariano Rivera’s career numbers were 8.30 K/9 with a .263 BABIP and a LOB% of 81.0% for his career. Craig Kimbrel owns a 14.66 K/9 with a BAIP of .263 and a LOB% of 83.8%.

It’s even more tenuous for starters. Max Scherzer, a future Hall-of-Fame pitcher, has career numbers of 10.65 K/9, .292 BABIP, 76.7% LOB%.

To ZiPS’ credit, that is about what it is estimating from Bieber this season. You know, consistent Hall of Fame level production.

I’m not ready to say that he is consistently able to produce like that yet. I’m not sure that the league has truly had a chance to adjust to him. In the two months of 2020, He’d added a new pitch to the repertoire and managed to tunnel it immaculately, leaving hitters in the dark again.

It’s impossible to continually add pitches. I expect that this will be the year Bieber solidifies himself as an excellent starter, an ace, and a legitimate torch bearer as one of the best pitchers in the game. I just also think that he’s going to go through a stretch where he gets roughed up.

I watched Kluber for too long to expect that an elite pitcher will simply mow people down game after game. Someone is going to find some success against Bieber, and the league will learn from them. We will watch, baffled, as pitches that used to freeze-up Jose Abreu are now being poked the other way by Nicky Lopez (sorry guy). It will be up to Bieber to respond.

I think he will. He will continue to produce like an elite arm. I just think that there is a little too much regression and a little too much uncertainty in how well his stuff will continue to play as the league grows familiar with him to bet on anything more than a 5.0 fWAR All-Star season.

It’d be a lot cooler if I’m wrong, for sure. I also doubt he dips below, say, 4.0 fWAR.

I just think it’s slightly more likely that he earns less than 5.4 fWAR rather than more.


Will Shane Bieber finish 2021 with an fWAR over or under 5.4?

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