We are starting a series of articles reviewing the Detroit Tigers’ biggest foes who will be in 2021. We start with Shane Bieber, the 2020 Cy Young Award winner.
During the shortened 2020 season Shane Bieber outperformed everyone’s expectations as he unanimously won the American League Cy Young Award while being the second player in Cleveland’s history to win the AL pitching Triple Crown. Bieber went 8-1 and led the majors in ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122). Bieber also tied Yu Darvish for the most wins (8) and Lance Lynn and Darvish for the most quality starts (10). Most interestingly, Bieber ranked number one with 5.4 hits per nine innings on his way to an incredible season.
From a fantasy baseball perspective, Bieber ranked as the number one pitcher in both Roto and points leagues and there is no dispute that he is the ace of the AL Central but is he the best pitcher in baseball entering 2021? Simply put, the answer is not yet, but that is less to do with how good Bieber actually is and more to do with the fact that he had the perfect set of conditions to capitulate him to CY Young status. Let’s take a look at his opponents during the 2020 season.
The Weak AL/NL Central
In 2020, Bieber faced only seven different teams and six of them were ranked in the bottom half in overall runs scored: Minnesota Twins (ranked tied 18th), Detroit Tigers (23rd), Kansas City Royals (24th), Milwaukee Brewers (26th), Cincinnati Reds (27th) and the Pittsburgh Pirates (30th).
Against the Detroit Tigers, Bieber was 2-0, 1.84 ERA, with 21 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. Bieber only gave up three earned runs against the Tigers and it was off the bat of a Willi Castro homerun.
The only team that had a solid offense was the Chicago White Sox (5th) and they relatively had the most success against him. White Sox kept Bieber winless in two games but they only scored four runs in eleven innings pitched. Clearly, Bieber was on a roll entering the playoffs but what happened when he faced a team outside of the AL/NL Central?
The only time that Bieber did not play an AL/NL Central was in the playoffs against the New York Yankees where he promptly gave up seven earned runs in 4.2 innings. To put that into perspective, Bieber only gave up 14 runs all year over 77.1 innings so if we counted this game against his regular season stats, Bieber’s ERA skyrockets from 1.63 to 3.87. Or, in other words, Bieber’s ERA goes from being the best in baseball to the 28th ranked ERA sandwiched between German Marquez (3.75) and Jose Berrios (4.00).
I point this out not to discredit Bieber’s excellence or to nitpick but instead to help curb your enthusiasm if you think he is the best pitcher in baseball. That title still belongs to Jacob deGrom or Gerrit Cole but it is getting close.
2021 ATC Projections
So what should we expect from Bieber moving forward now that he has to play the entire league? According to ATC Projections, Bieber projects to be 15-8 with a 3.21 ERA with 251 strikeouts in 200 innings pitched. Here is how he compares to the other top aces in baseball.
Going into 2021, Bieber ranks as my third best starting pitcher behind Gerrit Cole and Jacob deGrom and the ATC projections back me up. I am very interested to see how Bieber builds off his CY Young year when he has to play the entire league.