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Five reasons why Shane Bieber is AL Cy Young

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Dominant from his first outing of the 2020 MLB season through his last regular-season appearance, Cleveland Indians ace Shane Bieber ran away with the American League Cy Young Award in unanimous fashion on Wednesday night. Here’s a closer look at the stats and performances that made the right-hander the AL’s best pitcher and unanimous Cy Young selection.

The number that says it best

One. As in No. 1 on the MLB leaderboard. Bieber’s 8-1 record, 1.63 ERA, 122 strikeouts and opposing OPS of .494 led not just the American League but all of baseball this year.

Bieber became the first pitcher to lead the majors in wins, ERA and strikeouts since Johan Santana in 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Before that, you’d have to go back another 20-plus years to when Dwight Gooden accomplished the trifecta in 1985. Sandy Koufax (1963, ’65, ’66) is the only other pitcher to do it since they started handing out Cy Young Awards in 1956.

Historic context

Bieber’s 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest single-season total in MLB history, besting Gerrit Cole‘s mark of 13.8 from a season ago. And before you go chalking that up to the shortened 2020 season, consider that according to ESPN Stats & Information, Bieber’s mark is also the highest through a team’s first 60 games of a season for any pitcher in MLB history.

Signature performance

How do you choose just one? Bieber recorded double-digit strikeouts in eight of his 12 2020 starts and went at least six innings without giving up a run five times, but since you’re making us pick …

July 30 against the Minnesota Twins. On the heels of a 14-strikeout, six-inning scoreless season debut against the Kansas City Royals, Bieber outdid himself six days later when he held the Twins to just three hits over eight shutout innings while striking out 13 without issuing a walk.

The back-to-back dominant performances put Bieber in the AL Cy Young race driver’s seat from the start, especially when you consider this fact: He broke Nolan Ryan’s 42-year-old American League record for strikeouts in the first two starts of a season.

“That’s amazing company to be in, even in the same sentence with,” Bieber said after the start. “Definitely going to enjoy this one.”

The pitch that made him dominant

Bieber was known for his wipeout slider heading into the 2020 season, but it was a wrinkle in his curveball that took him to a new level this year, as he adjusted the pitch to make it harder for hitters to distinguish between his breaking balls.

Opposing hitters managed just a .095 batting average against his curveball, the lowest out of 53 MLB pitchers who threw at least 150 curveballs in 2020, while swinging and missing at an MLB-high 52% of his curveballs.

Just ask his manager

“Talk about being on a roll. He has the ability to throw any pitch at any spot in any count, and I don’t think I’ve seen another pitcher with a curveball and slider that are almost the identical speed with different breaks.” — Indians manager Terry Francona


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