By: James Carney
Shane Bieber’s 2020 season was historically impressive and dominant. Bieber, the ace for the AL Central champion Cleveland Indians, won the American League pitching triple crown, leading all pitchers in ERA (1.63), Wins, (8), and Strikeouts (122). He also led all AL pitchers in several more advanced statistics, including H/9 (5.35), FIP (2.07), Adjusted ERA+ (281), and WPA (3.0). He also led all American League players with a WAR of 3.2. Bieber’s performance and 8-1 record become even more impressive when compared to the poor state of the Indians’ offense, who finished bottom-five in the MLB in both OPS and runs scored.
It seems that Bieber has the AL Cy Young Award locked up, but the AL MVP is a different story. Since 1993, only two of the 54 league MVPs have been pitchers; those two seasons were Clayton Kershaw in 2014 and Justin Verlander in 2011. However, Bieber’s season very well might be one of those exceptional years where the pitcher deserves the award. Bieber’s 2020 matches up in a lot of ways with Verlander’s 2011 season, when he led the Detroit Tigers to an AL Central championship. Bieber’s impressive triple crown has not been achieved since 2011 when Verlander also led the league in all 3 categories. Also, Bieber’s 60-game WAR of 3.2, when expanded to a full season of 162 games, is 8.6, which is the highest of any AL pitcher since 2011, when Verlander also had a WAR of 8.6. Verlander’s main competition for the award, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jose Bautista, and Bieber’s competition, Jose Ramirez and Jose Abreu, were all players who managed an OPS around 1.000 but had WARs slightly under their respective pitcher, as Ramirez’s 2.1 and Abreu’s 2.8 WARs don’t stack up to Bieber’s 3.2. In fact, the second place AL WAR leader was actually Blue Jays pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu with a WAR of 3.0. Ramirez and Abreu, although both having impressive seasons, did not rack up numbers that stack up with past years MVPs. Abreu, who had the higher WAR of the two, would only have a WAR of 6.72 if expanded to the rest of the season. That would be the lowest AL MVP WAR since 2006. Bieber’s season is far more impressive and deserves an MVP award, even as a pitcher.
Bieber’s numbers are impressive in the 2020 season, but many of them are also quite historic. Bieber’s astronomical K/9 (14.2) is the highest ever for any pitcher. His ERA of 1.63 is the highest in the MLB since 1994, and his FIP of 2.07 is the lowest in the AL since 1999. It should be noted that these numbers would be much more difficult to maintain over a complete season, but Bieber’s historic pace is still extremely impressive. Bieber’s K% was in the top 5 for any 12-start stretch of any pitcher all-time. Bieber holds the AL record for most strikeouts over the first two starts of the season with 27 as well as the most strikeouts through 50 innings with 82, both records whose significance aren’t diminished by the shortened season. Bieber’s complete dominance as well as his similarities to past MVP winners gives him an extremely strong case for AL MVP in this shortened season.