Bieber's return to ace form raises tough Deadline questions

June 11th, 2023

CLEVELAND -- It’s been a while since the Guardians have seen this version of .

He’s been as consistent as always this season, but his dominance has been different than it was in the past. When he’d go deep in games, Bieber would give up just a run or two with very few strikeouts. When he’d turn in a scoreless performance or have a high number of strikeouts, his pitch count would limit him to just six innings.

But in the Guardians’ 5-0 win over the Astros on Sunday afternoon, all of these facets of Bieber's game came together like we’ve seen countless times over the past few seasons. He tossed seven scoreless frames, giving up just three hits with one walk and nine strikeouts.

“I’ve seen it from afar the last few years,” Guardians designated hitter said. “[He] really doesn’t make mistakes over the heart [of the plate]. He’s kind of painting up there.”

Bieber’s average velocity was up on all his pitches. He pounded the strike zone, tying his season high in punchouts and having his most called strikes of the season (27). Bieber's slider induced 12 swings, and not one resulted in a hit, while five of the 12 swings batters took against his cutter were whiffs.

“I think he’s remade himself,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “He sets the bar so high. I think sometimes he may be too hard on himself. I think he’s getting to a point, though, where he’s comfortable certainly in his [own] skin ... and just going out there and competing.”

But Bieber getting hotter as the summer nears will only make his situation more confusing.

The better he pitches, the higher his trade value will be. Bieber has been excellent this season, even if his peripheral numbers created some red flags. The 28-year-old righty has proven that he can remain effective despite his velocity being a few ticks lower than it was at the beginning of his career.

Bieber also consistently grinds through outings without striking out nearly as many batters as he had in the past. But no matter what those underlying numbers have shown, he continues to earn his title of being the team’s ace.

“I think I’d like to be multifaceted, right?” Bieber said. “It’s a hard thing to do to go out there year after year and try to do the same thing and expect the same results. … I feel like I’m the same pitcher. I’m just getting better and learning more about myself and continuing to improve.”

Let’s dive into how this impacts the possibilities leading up to the Trade Deadline.

The Guardians have much to learn about their roster between now and the Aug. 1 Deadline. Has this 10-6 stretch over the past 16 games been a better representation of the club moving forward? The offense seems to have found a new gear, turning in double-digit hit performances in six consecutive games for the first time since April 30-May 4, 2018.

If this is the direction Cleveland is moving in, the American League Central title is more than attainable.

If the Guardians are contenders, they will have to weigh out what makes more sense: A consistent ace in Bieber leading the pitching staff through the entire season or trading that for an impact bat to help bring another boost to this offense.

The seamless transition rookies and made to the Majors has certainly helped the idea that this rotation can continue to be successful without Bieber at some point in the future.

But is it reasonable to rely on two young arms who haven’t yet had experience handling the workloads that will be coming over the next few months? Will the club then need to rely on yet another young starter (someone like ) later in the year if Bieber is moved?

There are so many things the front office will have to weigh when determining what to do with Bieber, but there are still seven weeks to mull over it.

In the meantime, Bieber will try to make each outing look like Sunday’s performance, with little concern about the rumors swirling around him.

“I got enough things to worry about on my own and trying to get better,” Bieber said. “I felt like we found some momentum today, and that’s what I’m focused on is grabbing that and running with it.”