When hit, Bieber gets hit hard

Trends indicate success on balls in play against the rookie

Alex Hooper
July 08, 2018 - 5:53 pm
Jul 8, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Shane Bieber (57) reacts after giving up a home run in the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics at Progressive Field.

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – While the ‘Shane Bieber’s stuff will never blow you away’ evaluation has not proven to be entirely true since his debut on May 31st, Sunday showed that when the rookie does not miss bats, professional hitters will do damage.

The 23-year-old allowed nine batted balls that were hit at 95 mph-or-faster against the Oakland Athletics, with the A’s going 6-for-9 with two doubles and a home run on those events. His day resulted in eight hits and four earned runs over six innings, and the first loss of his short major league career.

The balls that have been hit off of Bieber have been hit hard in general. In his five prior starts, the righty has allowed a 45.2% hard-hit rate, and only an 8.6% rate of soft contact resulting in a .378 batting average on balls in play.

That number jumped to .380 on Sunday, 5th-highest in baseball among pitchers who have thrown at least 30 innings in 2018. (4th on that list is former Indians reliever Bryan “SHAW” Shaw.)

The difference between Bieber and the four pitchers ahead of him on that list is that none of the others appear higher than 104th (Shaw) on the hard-hit rate leaderboard.

Of course, the smaller sample size is largely to blame for the disparity as Bieber’s rate is hardly sustainable. The point being that BABIP is oft-used to quantify luck, while the hard-hit rate indicates that it is quite the opposite to this point for the rookie.

“I executed a lot of good pitches, but up here if you make those mistakes, whether it’s a few times or a few too many times, they’re going to take advantage of it,” Bieber said. “I just need to be better.”

High BABIP numbers are common for Bieber, with .375, .340, and .331 marks in 2017 at Low-A Lake County, High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron respectively.

The righty’s calling card to this point has been his ability to stay consistent and get out of jams, carrying an 82.3% left-on-base rate through his first six big league starts.

That trend is one not lost on Manager Terry Francona, and the main reason the organization is so high on Bieber. After falling behind 2-0 on a sharp liner to Edwin Encarnacion at first base that he lost on the transfer, Bieber retired 10 of the next 11.

“You know, he gave up two early and then he kind of found it a little bit,” Francona said. “Kind of like last start and then he gave up a two-run homer in the sixth that skewed his line, but he seems to - even for a young guy which is kind of good - if he’s not perfect early he seems to pitch himself into really getting more comfortable and he’s what five or six starts into his major league career and he gave up four and it seems like he didn’t pitch real well and I think he’s OK. He’s going to be a good one.”

On the contrary to the hard contact, when Bieber has missed bats, he has missed a lot. That trend also continued on Sunday, as the rookie struck out seven, putting his career total at 36, the third most in Indians history through six starts. He trails only Herb Score (57) and Danny Salazar (37).