A Shane Bieber trade would be a big bet on Cubs' improved pitching infrastructure

The Cleveland right-hander's metrics have trended sharply downward in recent years - which should raise some alarms in the Chicago front office.

Milwaukee Brewers v Cleveland Guardians
Milwaukee Brewers v Cleveland Guardians / Jason Miller/GettyImages

A bidding war could be heating up in between the Cubs and Reds, a pair of NL Central teams on the rise, when it comes to two prominent starting pitchers. Chicago and Cincinnati are reported to be in on both the Rays' right-hander Tyler Glasnow and Cleveland righty Shane Bieber.

But instead of lumping them into one bucket, let's take a step back and let the numbers on Bieber tell offer a cautionary tale after he struggled through a 2023 season where he looked more like a middle-of-the-rotation innings eater than an ace for the Guardians.

Metrics weren't kind to Shane Bieber during his 2023 season with the Guardians

In 2023, the former AL Cy Young winner posted career-worst hard hit and strikeout rates, and his 91.6 MPH average exit velocity ranked in the bottom two percent of the league, according to Statcast. He's lost roughly two miles per hour on his fastball since winning the Cy Young in 2020 and his chase rate marked a personal low, as well.

Looking at how he attacked hitters this year, Bieber threw more cutters than the year prior, to disastrous results: opponents hit .319 against the pitch, while throwing fewer of what has always been one of his best pitches, his slider. That pitch held opponents to a .228 wOBA in 2022 and an almost-identical .229 mark this season. Given the Cubs' recent love affair with the sweeper, it would hardly be a surprise to see him use that pitch more often if he came to Chicago.

He's just one year removed from a seventh-place Cy Young finish - a 200-inning, 2.88 ERA/2.87 FIP campaign and, at just 28 years old, there's certainly cause to think he could tap back into what made him one of the American League's top starters in the last few years.

Under Jed Hoyer, Chicago has completely revamped its organizational pitching structure - and there's no doubt the team has a ton of faith in what now-Boston chief baseball officer Craig Breslow helped spearhead in his time here. If the Cubs trade for Bieber with the expectation he co-headlines this rotation alongside Justin Steele, it will show the team believes so deeply in what its built that it can look past the red flags the two-time All-Star showed this year in Cleveland.