by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
The Cleveland Indians appear to be a never ending stream of intriguing starting pitchers. When one goes down the next steps up and thrusts his name onto fantasy radars. While their rotation was hampered by injuries in 2018 the team benefited from the emergence of Shane Bieber, who quickly became a viable fantasy option with seemingly even more upside. First, let’s look at the actual production:
118 Strikeouts (9.26 K/9)
23 Walks (1.81 BB/9)
46.6% Groundball Rate
He was obviously among the elite control artists in the league, a number that is fully believable (0.6 BB/9 over his minor league career). When you couple that with enough groundballs you are instantly going to have an intriguing fantasy option. The question is going to be whether or not he can maintain his strikeout rate, and also if he can improve upon his bloated BABIP.
Bieber is armed with an obvious swing and miss pitch, with his slider generating a 26.41% Whiff%. Having used the pitch 22.70% of the time, it’s hard to argue with the strikeout rate. Of course we’d like to see him get opponents to chase outside the strike zone a little bit more (30.9% O-Swing%), and that could lead to problems.
For a control pitcher it’s possible he starts to fill the strike zone too much. That’s splitting hairs, but it’s something to watch. At the very least he appears primed to maintain a strikeout per inning type pace (think in the 8.5-9.25 type range), but a slight adjustment could ensure him for even better marks.
Maybe this goes hand-in-hand with staying in the strike zone too much, but when opponents did make contact they hit the ball exceptionally hard. A 43.9% Hard% would back up a bloated BABIP, and if he had qualified it would’ve represented the worst mark in the league.
Maybe with more experience we’d expect at least a little bit of an improvement? Perhaps, but it also speaks to the lack of hype that had surrounded Bieber prior to his recall. When you see a minor leaguer with an 8.4 K/9 and 0.6 BB/9 you would think there would be a lot of excitement, but instead scouting reports were lukewarm.
We here at Rotoprofessor had a similar outlook, grading him as a “B-“ prospect prior to the season and saying:
He did generate a lot of swings and misses (13.1%), but that was due more to his control than his pure stuff. Control is important, but it’s possible he gets exposed a bit as he continues to advance. The numbers are going to catch your attention, though time will tell if he can continue to deliver.
There’s going to be a lot of hype surrounding Bieber heading into 2019 and to an extent it’s going to be justified. He’s going to have the potential to get a lot of W and his elite control should generally allow him to post a strong WHIP (especially when coupled with strikeouts). However there is also enough reason to think that he could continue to be hit hard, carrying an elevated BABIP. Maybe he does figure something out, allowing him to improve upon his BABIP (while lowering his Hard%), and if he does that he has Top 25 upside. That’s going to make him worth the flier, but he’s hardly a locked in must draft option.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference