When Shane Bieber first stepped onto a baseball mound at UC Santa Barbara, he was not considered scholarship worthy, instead earning a spot on the 2014 team as a preferred walk-on. Six years later, and Bieber is at the height of his game. Now pitching for the Cleveland Indians, Shane Bieber won the 2020 American League Cy Young Award earlier this month, an honor given annually to the best pitchers in Major League Baseball.
Bieber — who is not a relation of the popular singer of the same name — worked his way into UCSB baseball’s starting rotation by the middle of his first season. It marked the beginning of a rapid ascent to the top of his sport.
“We essentially bought him on layaway,” said Andrew Checketts, head coach of UCSB’s baseball team since 2011. “If you perform well, we said, we’ll give you a scholarship your second year. He continued developing until he got better and better and better.”
Bieber secured a scholarship and became a consistent Sunday starter as a sophomore, his skill and dominance earning the ace pitcher Second Team All-American honors and sending the Gauchos to the 2016 College World Series. After finishing his UCSB career with 23 wins, 300 innings pitched, 237 strikeouts, and a 2.73 earned run average (ERA) — all top-10 rankings in program history — Bieber was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft by Cleveland.
“He was very fortunate with the [Indians],” said Checketts. “It’s a really forward-thinking organization with a really strong reputation of developing their pitchers.” Cleveland’s pitching depth shines through Bieber, who was able to transition to the highest level of professional baseball with ease in 2018 after playing on multiple minor league teams. The numbers that the right-hander achieved during this year’s pandemic-shortened season topped every pitcher in Major League Baseball — in both the American and National leagues.
In September, Bieber captured the 2020 Major League Baseball Triple Crown for pitching, a feat that had not been accomplished since 2006 and one that Cleveland hadn’t brought home since 1940. The pitching Triple Crown is awarded to the player who leads the league in wins, strikeouts, and earned run average, of which Bieber boasted eight, 122, and 1.63, respectively.
The Cy Young Award was the natural culmination of an incredibly impressive season for Bieber, and there was little debate the Southern California native would take home the honors after completely rewriting the Indians’ record book. He became the youngest Cleveland pitcher in franchise history to win the award, and the second UCSB Gaucho to do so — the first was Barry Zito in 2002. Bieber received all 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and was the American League’s first unanimous winner since Justin Verlander in 2011.
“That’s pretty special,” Bieber told ESPN. “I appreciate them for casting their votes for me. It means the world, it really does. I’m just happy … It just makes it that much better that we were able to take this thing home and that it was unanimous.”
According to Checketts, Bieber is humble and gracious despite his overwhelming success, and he is always striving to push himself to do better. “Expectations are pretty high, but I know he will keep his head down and keep working,” said Checketts of the former Gaucho. “He’s going to be motivated to get his team back to the playoffs and try to win a World Series — he likes to win, he’s competitive, that’ll be on his brain.”
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