It was on May 7, 2022, that I officially became concerned about Shane Bieber.
The Cleveland Guardians’ ace had been shelled by the Blue Jays in the first game of a doubleheader, allowing eight hits, three walks, and seven earned runs over 3.1 innings. Not only was Bieber’s lack of command alarming, nearly throwing more balls (33) than strikes (38), but he was averaging 89.9 mph on his four-seam fastball in that game.
Bieber had already seen his fastball velocity dip from 94.1 mph in 2020 to 92.8 mph in 2021. That trend continued into 2022, with his four-seamer averaging 90.8 mph at the time of that May start against Toronto. By season’s end, Bieber’s fastball was averaging 91.3 mph. A far cry from his peak in 2020, when he won the AL Cy Young Award. Yet Bieber still managed to finish the year ranked 12th among all qualified starters in ERA and 8th in WAR.
Welcome to the reinvention of Shane Bieber.
Back in 2020, Bieber leaned heavily on his four-seam fastball and his curveball, the latter of which was lethal against opposing hitters. The slash line against his curveball was .095/.115/143, and the pitch boasted a 51.5% whiff percentage.
He went from throwing that curveball 26.3% of the time in 2020 to only throwing it 17.9% of the time in 2022, supplanting it with a slider that he had only thrown 11.6% of the time in 2020. Part of the reason for that is that the effectiveness of his curveball had started to diminish in 2021. Bieber was throwing it nearly a third of the time and hitters were posting their best slash line against it since his rookie season. The drop in velocity on his four-seam fastball also led to that being more hittable, spelling trouble for both of his top pitches.
As his fastball velocity diminished further coming into 2022 after a shoulder injury the previous year, Bieber elevated the role of his slider in his pitch arsenal. For most of the year, it was his most used pitch before eventually being overtaken by his four-seamer. It was certainly his most effective pitch by year’s end, sporting an xBA of .199.
Bieber didn’t retire his curveball, but was more judicious about its usage. It found new life as his third most used pitch, as hitters only slashed .191/.201/.276 against it. New roles for his slider and curveball highlighted a retooled pitch mix that still prominently featured his four-seam fastball. Its velocity may have diminished, but Bieber still possesses elite fastball command, and he started spotting it more in the upper half and outer quadrants of the strike zone.
Looking at his final stat lines from the last four seasons, the most notable change is the drop in his strikeouts per nine innings. His 2022 stats are a far cry from his dominant 2020 season, but represent an improvement over his performances in 2019 and 2021.
2019: 3.28 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 10.9 K/9, 1.7 BB/9
2020: 1.63 ERA, 2.07 FIP, 14.20 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
2021: 3.17 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 12.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
2022: 2.88 ERA, 2.87 FIP, 8.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
Bieber wasn’t an All-Star selection this season and he likely won’t have garnered many votes (if any) in the AL Cy Young Award voting, but this season he quietly demonstrated why he remains among the best starting pitchers in baseball.
Shane Bieber’s 2022 Stats
Total MVP points: 62
First-place MVP votes: 0
Second-place MVP votes: 1
Third-place MVP votes: 4
We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.