Two of the preeminent young starters in baseball have emerged in the cities of Los Angeles and Cleveland over the past couple years. With no disrespect to Dodgers great Clayton Kershaw, who’s one of the best to ever take the mound, right-hander Walker Buehler has assumed the mantle of the club’s most valuable starter when you combine age, contract and performance. Meanwhile, the Indians have a similarly enviable rotation piece to build around in righty Shane Bieber, who joined Buehler among the majors’ most productive pitchers in 2019. So, here’s a question that has no wrong answer: If you had to pick one, which of the two would you choose?
To begin, they’re almost the same age, and they’re under team control for the same number of years. The 25-year-old Buehler won’t be eligible for free agency until after 2024. As a Super Two player, he brings one more pre-arbitration campaign to the table (though it won’t matter if there is no 2020 season). Bieber, who will turn 25 next month, is due to reach free agency at the same time, but he’s in his penultimate pre-arb year.
As for on-field results, Buehler has the edge on Bieber thus far in terms of run prevention. Excluding 9 1/3 rough debut innings as a reliever in 2017, Buehler has parlayed a 96 mph-plus fastball into a sterling 2.98 ERA/3.02 FIP with 10.3 K/9 and 2.08 BB/9 across 319 2/3 innings over the past two seasons.
Bieber also began to make his mark in 2018, and while his 4.55 ERA didn’t wow anyone, his peripherals indicated that he deserved better. Although he doesn’t match Buehler’s velocity (Bieber averages 93 mph on his heater), he nonetheless broke out in earnest last season. Bieber notched a 3.28 ERA/3.32 FIP and put up 10.88 K/9 against 1.68 BB/9 in 214 1/3 frames – the second-highest total in the game (only AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander amassed a larger amount) and 32 more than Buehler’s 182 1/3. Buehler had a very similar year otherwise, though, posting a 3.26 ERA/3.01 FIP and recording 10.61 K/9 versus 1.83 BB/9. He further put himself on the map with 12 2/3 exemplary innings of one-run ball in a playoff series loss to the eventual World Series champion Nationals.
It’s obvious there’s a ton to like about this tandem. Buehler and Bieber have not only already established themselves as elite pitchers in their mid-20s, but perhaps elite players in general. Going forward, however, which one would you take to head up your rotation? (Poll link for app users)