Work ethic is the name of Shane Bieber’s game. After walking on to the UC Santa Barbara team in 2014, he made himself into the Friday night ace, a second-team All-American, and a fourth-round pick by Cleveland in the 2016 draft. It took him all of two years to ascend through the Cleveland system and debut with the big league club, and then another two years to claim his first Cy Young.
Coming up on just 26 years old, what Bieber has yet to accomplish in his career is remarkable to consider. With his work ethic, there are seemingly no limits to his potential.
Thanks to a partnership with Miller Lite, the Cleveland ace sat for an interview with Covering the Corner to talk about his work ethic, the 2021 ball, and this year’s Cleveland team, a transcript of which follows below. Through the partnership with Miller Lite, for the rest of the 2021 season, Bieber can join fans for a selfie through an augmented reality experience from the comfort of their own home.
Check out the site at https://www.millerlite.com/clevelandindians.
Chris Davies: Hey Shane, thanks for taking time to talk today. You’re working with Miller Lite on the virtual selfie program?
Shane Bieber: Right, yeah.
CD: Can you tell me a little about that and why it’s exciting for you?
SB: Yeah, it’s extremely exciting. I think, looking back toward last year and everything everyone went through, obviously an unprecedented year or two years where fans weren’t able to be in the stands and we weren’t able to interact with the fans. This is an opportunity to get back to normalcy a little bit and meet somewhere in the middle. It’s a way for fans to interact with me and take a selfie through this augmented reality situation. All they have to do, it’s pretty simple — whether at the ballpark, on the road, at home — just go to https://www.millerlite.com/clevelandindians and take this augmented selfie with me. IT’s very interactive and just a really cool experience. I think it’s an awesome exciting opportunity.
CD: Absolutely. You mentioned a crazy couple years and it was probably especially crazy for you, winning a Cy Young and coming back this year just as strong as ever, but maybe with not quite as good of luck. What’s been your focus in the offseason and through the first quarter of the season?
SB: My focus in the offseason was pretty much to refine my stuff, continue to try and get better. Looking back towards last year, I wanted to pitch deeper into the ball game, and I think I came out of the gates and did well. I know as of the last few outings I haven’t been able to do that as consistently as I’d like to, but it’s a long season and you gotta take each start as that, just another start and another way to progress. That’s what I’m trying to do. Basically going off last year, trying to revamp and refine my stuff, especially my slider because I’ll be able to rely on that a little bit heavier this year. And I feel like I’ve shown that and ideally, I’d love to pitch deeper into ballgames.
CD: Talking about refining your stuff, last year Baseball Savant classified your pitches — and I don’t know if you classify them this way — they said you threw a cutter 16% of the time but this year it says you’re doing that 2% of the time. What’s the mindset with that?
SB: I definitely threw it a bit more last year; it was a little bit newer last year and wasn’t on the scouting report as much for other teams. So that was an opportunity to kind of catch them off guard and steal some strikes from at-bat to at-bat. That was was kind of a thinker in terms of it’s a new pitch, I felt very comfortable with it because I put a lot of work into it, and let’s find a place where we can use it and use it to steal strikes, especially early in the count. This year, like I said, I’ve kind of refined my pitches, my slider specifically. And I’m feeling a lot more confident with that, and that’s a bit more of a swing-and-miss pitch with a little more room for error than the cutter. Using those two together is ideal, but as of the beginning of this year, I’ve relied a little more on my slider than my cutter.
CD: What specifically did you do with the slider over the offseason? Was there an emphasis on increasing spin or break?
SB: I think both. I kind of changed up the grip to be able to do that and get comfortable with it. My slider last year and the way I’ve come up with it, I hadn’t changed it too much. It’s been at points really good and at points, it’s been really bad [laughs], so I wanted to develop more consistency with it. I feel like I was able to do that with help from a lot of people. The way it’s coming out of my hand just feels a lot more consistent and I’m able to kind of tweak it and adjust it when needed, as opposed to my old one — I didn’t feel as comfortable doing that.
CD: Talking about the feel in the hand, I’ve read a lot of articles talking to different pitchers about the new ball and how it maybe feels different. What’s your experience with the way the ball has changed from your previous years to this year?
SB: It’s interesting, I’m not sure I can give you a straight-to-the-point answer on that because I do feel like the ball changes from stadium to stadium — maybe not the ball, but the way it’s rubbed up. So the experiences are different from game to game. I think the laces are slightly bigger and the weight adjustment, they’ve kind of narrowed in on that five-ounce weight and brought the margins down a little bit lower. I feel like potentially it’s a little bit more consistent. At the end of the day, it’s a baseball, it still feels normal, and for the most part, it feels like it always has.
CD: There’s been talk about pitchers using substances as well. No accusations here, but is that something you’d like to see legalized to help get your spin the same every game?
SB: I’m not sure. I’m not sure how I feel about it. I haven’t been on Twitter too much lately, but I know there’s been accusations recently and this offseason with certain guys around the league. I don’t know how I feel about it. At certain points, it can be extremely difficult to find the zone with some of these baseballs where it feels pretty slick, but I totally understand the argument against it. Especially how pitching has come out and done pretty well to start the season. If they see a need for change there, that’s their decision. I don’t know, I’m kind of on the fence right there, kind of in the middle of it.
CD: Changing directions a little bit, Cleveland is one of the youngest teams in the league and you yourself are a pretty young man, how does that help you in terms of camaraderie and the way the team works together during a long season, especially after losing a couple veteran guys over the offseason.
SB: I love our guys. We feel like we’re in a really good spot. We’re still trying to find our stride, but I think that’s a positive. We’re playing good baseball and we’re still trying to figure out our exact identity and find our stride. We took a couple of tough hits with some injuries as of late, and it’s going to be a test for us that we’re determined to get through and to pass. I love our guys and our clubhouse, we have good camaraderie, great team atmosphere in the clubhouse, in the dugout, on the field. It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of.
CD: Some might say, especially after losing veteran guys, that you’re overachieving this year. Is that something that you guys think about at all or do you just go out and try to win every day and not think about what FanGraphs’ projections have you at?
SB: I think that’s the best way to do it. Whether they think we’ve overachieved to this point or not, those games are done with and we won those games and lost some games on the way. We’re going to continue to look at each game as just that: a singular opportunity to go out there and win and compete. I think that’s the best way to go about things and keep it as simple as possible.
CD: My last question for you, what’s the difference having fans, and how excited are you to see a full stadium in Cleveland?
SB: Oh, I can’t wait. June 2 I believe. I know we’re all counting down the days. The most exciting part is just feeling the energy — good or bad, whether on the road or at home. I think there’s benefits to both situations and just feeling that energy from the fans and feeding off it, using it to your advantage, I think they play a serious role in the game. It’s a lot of fun to have them back at capacity. I speak for more than just myself, we can’t wait for everything to get back to normal and a full stadium.