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2019 Season in Review - Shane Bieber


In each of the past three seasons, MLB has held a "Player's Weekend" where one of the promotions is players having the ability to wear a nickname on the back of their jersey. For both of his MLB seasons, Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber has worn "Not Justin" on the back of his uniform. After the season he just put up, however, pretty soon teenage girls will need to buy tickets to see "Not Shane: Live In Concert" when attending a Justin Bieber show. I kid, of course, but Bieber, the pitcher, just put up a fantastic season launching himself into the fantasy ace conversation and shows no signs he can't replicate this type of season moving forward.

Bieber finished his sophomore campaign 15-8 with a 3.28 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and a whopping 259 strikeouts in 214.1 innings pitched.  He finished fourth in American League Cy Young voting and was voted the MVP of the All-Star game, albeit with a little hometown bias seeing as how the game was played in Cleveland. Bieber was a popular breakout candidate coming into the season, but even the most optimistic projections couldn't have predicted he'd be so dominant so quickly at the Major League level.

So what made Bieber so successful? And can he continue this level of dominance in 2020 and beyond?

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A True Breakout

The advanced metrics behind his incredible season all point to yes. Bieber's strong 3.28 ERA was backed up by plenty of skill-based ERA metrics that suggest his ERA was right where it deserved to be. Bieber's 3.36 SIERA was fifth among all qualified starters and his 3.32 FIP and 3.23 xFIP were both top-15 in baseball. Whatever skill-based ERA metric you prefer, Bieber was great at it.

But it's not just the ERA that made Bieber such a fantasy asset this season. His 259 strikeouts were third in baseball behind only Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole of the Astros. Bieber racked up the strikeouts thanks to an elite 30.2 percent strikeout rate, one of only 10 starters to have a K% over 30 percent. On the other side of the spectrum, he posted a walk rate of just 4.7 percent to justify his sterling 1.05 WHIP.

All of these numbers suggest 2019 was no fluke for the 24-year-old righty and the improvements he made to his arsenal should lead to more great seasons to come.

The main difference between 2018 and 2019 for Bieber was less reliance on his average 93.4 MPH four-seam fastball and making improvements to his secondary offerings. In 2018, Bieber threw the heater over 57 percent of the time but cut that number back to 45 percent in 2019. Less turned out to be more for Bieber as batters hit just .226 against the four-seamer this season compared to .306 in 2018.

Scaling back on the fastball allowed Bieber to focus more on his wipeout slider that batters hit just .206 against this season. In fact, all of Bieber's offerings improved based on his weighted pitch values.

Weighted pitch values are an advanced metric that attempts to measure how many runs a pitcher allows per pitch, based on 100 pitches. Despite having a decent 2018, three of Bieber's four pitches finished the season with a negative pitch value. That changed dramatically this past season with three of the four being positive and even his changeup, improving from a -3.44 weighted value in 2018 to just -0.37 in 2019.

Everything Bieber showed us this past season screams improvement and given his youth and Cleveland's recent success developing young arms it's hard to see how anyone can doubt the numbers he put up in 2019 which brings us to the main question of how we should value Bieber going into 2020.

 

2020 Outlook

First of all, if you own Bieber in any kind of keeper or dynasty league, congratulations! You've got yourself one of the bright young arms in the game and you should hold him as long as league rules allow. But what about redraft? Bieber is still a step behind the Max Scherzer's and Jacob deGrom's of the world that get picked in the first or second round but he's not too far behind. Bieber should come into play starting in round three, especially if you start your team with two hitters.

Bieber is on the fast track to becoming one of the safest SP1s in fantasy. All pitchers carry inherent injury risk, that's just the nature of the position, but Bieber seems as equipped as anyone to handle a full starter's workload. His 214.1 innings this past season were the second-most in the majors and he threw 194.1 innings between the majors and minors in 2018. Cleveland has a reputation for letting their starters go deep into games with Bieber and other starters like Trevor Bauer regularly throwing around 120 pitches. He threw three complete games last season, two shutouts, and had 11 starts with at least nine strikeouts.

His arm is as strong as anyone and he's as safe a bet as anyone to throw 200-plus innings again in 2020. He should be able to do that with a low-3 ERA and another impressive strikeout total. Draft Bieber with confidence as your SP1 and enjoy watching one of the next great American League pitchers dominate lineups like the Tigers and Royals with regularity.