Shane Bieber’s encore performance following a pitching Triple Crown has been everything we could hope for. An ERA in the low 2.00’s, a gem of a start this past Tuesday to go with his growing list of dominant outings against a division rival, his averaging more than 10 strikeouts per outing, it’s just been unabashedly great. Everything looks excellent out of the hand too — the slider is still a killer, the curve still falls off the table, and his fastball finds the black like a heat-seaker. What more could you ask for?
One thing though: last year a nice surprise was that Bieber had introduced a cutter to his repertoire. Between the sharp downward break of the curve and the snap of the slider as it runs from righties, this new pitch just made everything a bit more difficult for hitters. He’d successfully created a range of about six square feet where he could precisely place a pitch at any given time, and you had to be ready for all of them. And three of them had some kind of wicked movement.
He was seemingly comfortable with it too, throwing the cutter 16.2% of the time. That was his third most-used pitch after the fastball and slider. It was plainly a new and vital piece of his repertoire, important to keep people off-balance between his fastball and slider and making both more lethal.
Anyway, he’s thrown it just once this year. Here it is, in GIF form:
A high pitch to Robbie Grossman. That’s all we have from a pitch that was supposed to be some kind of bread-and-butter for Bieber.
Now, it’s still incredibly early — Bieber has made fewer than 10% of the starts he’s expected to make this year, and thrown only 331 pitches — but you’d think it would have shown up somewhere, something more than just once. Last year, three starts into the season, he’d already thrown the cutter 46 times. Seems odd, is all.
It could be he’s eyeing the long game like Corey Kluber used to do with his slider. Basically right now Bieber could be featuring two or three pitches, and as hitters get used to that, he starts folding in the cutter? He didn’t’ have time last year in just 12 starts to do that, but the long season is just that.
I’d thought that maybe he had just gotten a few pitches misclassified, but there are only four options of breakers he’s thrown that are over 87 mph, something close to the average velocity of his cutter, and they all look like this:
An overthrown slider? Probably. Or maybe he’s thrown a few cutters but they just didn’t work out for him, and he wanted to focus early this season on what’s working for him.
Again, it’s still early, and with 150 games (or 29 starts in his case) still to go, there’s still a ton to watch for. In this case, he’s likely just building towards a greater plan that we get to see play out. That should be fun.