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Smash or Pass: Shane Bieber

It wasn’t too long ago that he was one of the best pitchers in the game.

Atlanta Braves v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Who is he and where does he come from?

Shane Bieber was never expected to win a Cy Young award as a fourth round selection out of UC Santa Barbara in 2016. His calling card when he was drafted by the Cleveland Guardians was his advanced command profile. While he had a lot of success at the collegiate level, he was not known for his overpowering stuff, but rather for his command of his fastball and feel for pitching.

Is he any good?

From the time of his full-season debut in 2019 until the end of the 2023 season, Bieber ranks 7th in fWAR among all qualified starting pitchers. His best performance came during the Covid-shortened 2020 season, when he won the AL Cy Young as well as the pitching Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA. It’s easy to dismiss such a short season as meaningless, but the numbers really were eye popping. He won eight games losing only one while striking out 122 batters in 77 ⅓ innings with an ERA of 1.63.

The following season he was excellent again before being shut down with shoulder issues. But he bounced back to throw 200 innings in the 2022 season with a 2.88 ERA. Bieber has received Cy Young votes in three of the five full-seasons he has pitched. There have been few better than him over the last five seasons.

Tl;dr, just give me his 2023 stats.

21 GS, 128 IP, 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 107 SO, 47.2% GB, 12% HR, 13.7% K-BB, .250 BAA, 2.1 fWAR

Would he be a good fit for the 2024 Red Sox?

Probably not. Honestly, as much as I love watching Bieber pitch, it is undeniable that his skills have been in decline. I mentioned the shoulder issues in 2021, but last year he missed time with elbow issues as well. His K-BB ratio last year was the worst of his career and his fastball velocity has dropped from 94.3 MPH in 2020 to just 91.6 MPH last year. While his fastball can survive at this velocity due to his advanced command of the pitch, he is more prone to being punished for his mistakes.

His best pitch over the course of his career has been and continues to be his slider. His curveball, which used to be a go-to pitch for him, is no longer an effective offering, and to offset this degradation and the loss of velocity on his fastball, he has begun throwing his cutter more often. Last year he threw the cutter career high 25.7% of the time.

Ultimately, the Red Sox rotation currently has too many players with questionable ceilings and potential health issues and Bieber falls into both of those categories.

What would he cost?

This is where it gets mildly interesting. It may not actually cost much at all to go get Bieber. According to Jeff Ellis of the Locked On Guardians podcast, he is “almost a salary dump” at this point. Bieber is expected to make $12.1 million in his final year of arbitration before reaching free agency. This relatively high figure coupled with the uncertainty of his health and performance have really cratered his value. I still think the cost would be a prospect or two in the 8-15 range, however, and I’m not sure the Red Sox are currently in the best position to do that.

Show me a cool highlight.

Here is Bieber on June 11 of this past season facing the Houston Astros at home. The Astros have one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball and Bieber, even with diminished stuff, is proving he can still dominate when he’s on. In this highlight he strikes out nine batters over seven innings allowing no runs, walking just one, and giving up just three hits. This is what Biber looks like when he has all his pitches working. My favorite is when he dials up the only 93 MPH heater up in the zone to get a helpless looking Alex Bregman.

Smash or pass?

My heart says yes but my head says no. Look, this all comes down to cost. I think Bieber still has upside, as he’s entering his age 29 season, but I don’t necessarily believe that he will stay healthy or that he will suddenly regain any lost velocity. With that being said, if the Red Sox can go out and get a year of Shane Bieber with someone like Allan Castro as the headliner to the deal, then I’m in. I think this might just be one of those situations where Bieber has the most value to Cleveland and their fans than he does to any other franchise that is interested in acquiring him.