Cleveland Indians RHP Shane Bieber easily wins his first Cy Young Award
On July 24, 25-year-old right-hander Shane Bieber took the mound at Progressive Field to make the Opening Day start for the Cleveland Indians. He not only went six innings that night in an Indians win over the Kansas City Royals, he kicked off a remarkable journey that culminated on Wednesday with his selection as the American League Cy Young Award winner.
Bieber received all 30 first-place votes to finish ahead of the Twins’ Kenta Maeda and Hyun Jin Ryu of the Blue Jays. He becomes the fifth pitcher in Indians franchise history to win the Cy Young Award, joining Gaylord Perry, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, and Corey Kluber and is the first unanimous winner since Justin Verlander with the Tigers in 2011.
Bieber’s historic season began with that start on Opening Day. He shut out the Royals while striking out 14. He shut out the Twins in his second start. Bieber allowed one or fewer runs in six of his 12 starts this season and finished with a league-leading 1.63 ERA, the fifth-lowest in the division era among pitchers with at least 12 starts.
Bieber not only led the league in ERA, he also topped all starting pitchers with an 8-1 record and 122 strikeouts in 77.1 innings. His 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings set a new Major League record for a starting pitcher. He reached double-digit strikeouts in eight of his 12 starts and struck out at least eight in every game he pitched. He became the first pitcher to lead the Majors in wins, ERA, and strikeouts since Johan Santana in 2006, and the first AL right-hander since Walter Johnson in 1918.
Before the 2019 All-Star Game, Bieber was best known as simply a man with a famous last name. But he enjoyed a breakout performance that night in his home park, winning game MVP honors in his first All-Star appearance. He was even better this season, thanks in large part to an increased use of his terrific knuckle curveball. Bieber threw the pitch 26 percent of the time in 2020, a six-point jump from the year before. Opponents hit just .095 off it with one home run. Of the 84 at-bats against Bieber that ended with him throwing a curveball, 50 of them resulted in a strikeout.
The former UC-Santa Barbara walk-on made a name for himself in 2020, joining the list of baseball’s premier starting pitchers. In a season filled with uncertainty, the Indians had one guarantee: when Bieber took the mound, he was almost guaranteed to be great. Cleveland lost just two of his 12 starts.
“It means the world. It’s pretty incredible,” Bieber said on MLB Network following the announcement. “Just to be in the same list of these players…to be able to get the season in and do what we did, for it to finish this way is extremely special.”
Bieber just concluded his third season in the big leagues. He’ll anchor the Indians pitching staff for years to come. And if he continues to pitch as he did in 2020, this won’t be the last time he wins pitching’s highest honor.