Bieber strong, but sunk by one late mistake

44 minutes ago

CLEVELAND — If you’re experiencing mixed emotions about Shane Bieber’s season so far, you’re likely not alone.

Bieber had yet another outing on Saturday evening that he started strong, preventing runners from advancing into scoring position from the second through fifth innings. But once he got into the sixth, Bieber gave up a three-run blast that led to the Guardians’ 4-2 loss to the Red Sox at Progressive Field — an outing similar to his start two weeks ago in Colorado, which ended with a seventh-inning, two-run homer.

It’s difficult to grade the Guardians’ ace given the ups and downs he’s experienced. The 27-year-old righty had a slower start to the year, as he continued to build himself up following a shortened spring campaign. But after his clunker against Toronto (giving up seven runs in 3 1/3 innings), he’s started to resemble the ace-like Bieber we’ve seen over the last few seasons, owning a 2.41 ERA in eight starts since.

In his last eight outings, Bieber has racked up seven quality starts (the one outing that wasn’t a quality start was a rain-shortened, scoreless outing against the Rangers). His 10 quality starts on the season were tied for the fourth most in the American League entering Saturday. And even after the three-run homer at the end of his outing against Boston, his ERA is still a solid 3.07.

But still, Bieber hasn’t given off the same dominant-like vibe as we’ve seen in the past. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why that might be the case.

1. Struggling against the righties
There are plenty of reasons why Bieber has been able to be successful this season, and one of those is his dominance against lefties. He’s held them to a .203 batting average, which ranked sixth best in the American League entering Saturday (minimum of 120 batters faced). But when righties step in the box, they’re registering a .287 clip against the Guardians’ ace.

That may be a result of his waning heater, which he’s thrown nearly twice as much to righties as he has lefties. A four-seamer that once averaged 94.1 mph (in 2020) has dropped to an average of 90.8 mph this season, prompting him to turn to his slider more often than his fastball for the first time in his career.

2. His Statcast metrics are cooling
Speaking of some changes in his metrics, changing Bieber’s Baseball Savant profile from his 2020 stats to 2021 to 2022 creates a slow fade from bright red to cooler blue. Aside from his fastball velocity dipping down to the 17th percentile, he’s seen drops in each of these other categories:

o K%: 74th percentile (not low, of course, but different from the Bieber we’re used to)
o Expected ERA: 49th percentile
o Expected batting average: 39th percentile
o Expected slugging percentage: 35th percentile

3. Running out of gas
Maybe Bieber isn’t running out of gas at the end of his outings and it’s more of an issue of struggling how to attack hitters the third time through the order. But regardless of what the problem is, Bieber has seen a frustrating trend this year of cruising through the first few innings of outings before the wheels fall off the cart right at the end — as they did in Saturday’s start.

“I’m kicking myself a little bit for literally three at-bats I know where I feel like sequencing-wise, pitch-selection-wise, I could’ve changed something up,” Bieber said. “But it is what it is. … I made a mistake, didn’t make very many all day, but made one and got burned for it. That’s the game we play.”

Here’s a look at his ERA by inning so far this season:

1st: 0.64
2nd: 3.86
3rd: 1.29
4th: 2.70
5th: 1.50
6th: 6.10 (when Saturday’s three-run home run took place)
7th: 7.11
8th: 18.00

While it may be something to keep an eye on, the Guardians don’t seem concerned that this trend will continue to plague Bieber as we creep into the second half of the season.

“It’s just making pitches and good hitters making some good swings sometimes,” Guardians backstop Austin Hedges said. “It’s not necessarily the same thing happening. I thought today, we went with his best stuff — the curveball — and [Alex] Verdugo is a good hitter and he was able to put a good swing on it. But it’s not really anything to overthink.”