That’s probably not fair, as Shane Bieber isn’t really doing anything he didn’t do last year. We just didn’t notice all that much because it was a 60-game season in the middle of a pandemic and most of it happened in Cleveland.
Bieber became the first pitcher in 127 years to start the season with four starts of 10-plus strikeouts. He’s struck out 48 in 29⅓ innings this season. That’s good for a 41 percent K-rate. Which is exactly what he managed last year.
It’s curious that the last time someone managed this, which was 1893, it was the first year after the mound had been moved to its current distance. Funny because the discussion of late has been about moving the mound back a foot to try and create more action in the game. Bieber’s accomplishment feels like we’ve come back around again. A mark that hasn’t been reached in 127 years screams of an event horizon, does it not?
What makes it more obvious is how many pitchers could get close to Bieber’s overall number of 48 Ks in their fourth start. Jacob deGrom has 36 in three starts. Brewers duo Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta have 31 and 30 in three starts, respectively.
The Yankees’ Gerrit Cole has 39 in four starts. Jose Berrios is another who is rocking a K-rate above 40 percent so far this season. Only Bieber managed it last year. It’s a long season, and maybe none will stay there. But as wondrous as Bieber’s streak is, there can’t be a clearer illustration of the problem.
Anyway, Bieber’s new weapon this year is a slider that he didn’t throw much last year, but is generating a nuclear 63 percent swing-and-miss rate, according to Statcast. It is pretty startling how Statcast can break down his arsenal. You can see from this graphic below how Bieber has been busting fastballs up-and-in at the top of the strike zone, and then darting his slider to the opposite side.
Sticking with MLB, and the Dodgers and Padres completed the first only-NL-series-that-matters yesterday, with the Padres avoiding getting swept with a 5-2 win after three eight-inning runs. All three games were drama-filled, with a little spice thrown in thanks to some verbal skirmishes here and there.
The comparisons to the Red Sox and Yankees of the early-to-mid 2000s were hard to avoid, but that was a result of both of those teams being able to spend more money on their rosters than anyone else. The Dodgers and Padres standing out from the rest of the pack is a result of no one else wanting to. It’s not a “rise above” situation so much as a “stood around while everyone else jumped off” one.
While the games themselves were baseball drugs for fans, it was hard not to feel a little wistful that these might be three of the only 19 games either of these teams play with any juice to them. What are the others? Games with the Braves and Mets? That’s about it.
But hey, the only game the Dodgers lost was the one Trevor Bauer started, so there was definitely some joy to be had.