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Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer Win Cy Young Awards

Bieber, a right-hander for Cleveland, led all major league pitchers in several statistical categories, and Bauer, a right-hander for Cincinnati, wasn’t far behind.

Shane Bieber led all major league pitchers in 2020 with a 1.63 E.R.A., 122 strikeouts, and 3.3 wins above replacement. Credit...Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Shane Bieber still keeps a screenshot in his cellphone of a text message exchange he had earlier this year with Trevor Bauer, a former teammate in Cleveland whose locker was next to his. Although the Indians traded Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds midway through the 2019 season, the two starting pitchers still stay in frequent touch. And before the 2020 season began, they had similar betting odds to win the Cy Young Awards in their leagues.

“That’s not something I pay too much attention to,” said Bieber, who is more reserved than the brash Bauer. “But he kind of does and he texted it to me, and it goes back to this friendly competition that we have with each other. All I replied back was like, ‘Hey, why not go to 2 for 2?’ And he said, ‘Sounds like a deal.’”

Their wish came true on Wednesday: Bieber was named the unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young Award for the truncated 2020 Major League Baseball season, while Bauer claimed the National League Cy Young Award. They are the first pitchers to earn the awards in the same year after being teammates in the prior season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“We talked a little bit throughout the year about how cool it would be to have ex-teammates win the award together, and here we are,” Bauer said on a conference call with reporters. Added Bieber: “It means the world.”

For Bieber, the award capped a rapid ascent to the top of his sport after not being considered good enough to earn a scholarship at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014. He instead earned a spot as a walk-on. His fastball sat in the mid-80s. He had strong command but didn’t strike out many hitters.

Six years later, Bieber was by far the best pitcher in baseball during the 60-game regular season. He either led or tied for the major league lead in many statistical categories, such as earned run average (1.63), wins (eight), strikeouts (122), and wins above replacement (3.3).

Not far behind on many of those lists was Bauer. Now documenting his free agency on social media, Bauer went 5-4 with a 1.73 E.R.A. and 100 strikeouts and earned 27 of the 30 possible first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He is the first Reds pitcher to win the award.

“For a franchise has been around for as long as the Reds have, with all the amazing talent that has gone through and all the great teams in Reds history, to not have a Cy Young Award winner in the past, it was high time that changed,” Bauer said.

The three other first-place votes in the N.L. went to Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs, who finished second. Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ ace who won the award in 2018 and 2019, finished third. Bieber, the A.L.’s first unanimous winner since Justin Verlander in 2011, bested Minnesota’s Kenta Maeda and Toronto’s Hyun-jin Ryu, two former Los Angeles Dodgers in their first year with new teams.

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The victories by Bauer and Bieber, both right-handers and first-time winners, underscored the work of the smaller-market Indians’ envied pitching development factory.

During the 2018 and 2019 seasons, Cleveland counted Bauer, Bieber and the two-time A.L. Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber — plus standouts like Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco — among its starters. The Indians traded away Bauer, Clevinger and Kluber in a span of 13 months, and still reached the playoffs this year.

Bieber, who eventually earned a scholarship and starred for his college team, was selected by Cleveland in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Unlike Bauer, 29, who has thrown hard since high school, Bieber, 25, added velocity over time.

In the Indians’ farm system, Bieber tweaked his repertoire and blossomed. In 2020, he threw his mid-90s fastball only 38 percent of the time, one of the lowest rates in the major leagues among starting pitchers, because he expertly mixed it with sliders, cutters, curveballs, and changeups.

“His journey has been quite spectacular,” Bauer said.

Bieber’s biggest blemish of the year: He allowed seven runs in his lone playoff start, a loss to the Yankees in the first round of this year’s expanded postseason. The vote for the Cy Young Award, though, is taken before the playoffs. (The New York Times does not permit its reporters to vote for awards.)

Following a trend across baseball over recent years, Bieber set a major league record last season by striking out 14.2 batters per nine innings. He did that, however, over only 77⅓ innings. The previous record-holder was Gerrit Cole, now with the Yankees, whose strikeout rate of 13.8 per nine innings was accomplished over 212⅓ innings in 2019 with the Houston Astros.

Continuing a steady upward trend, Bauer finished third in strikeout rate (a career-high 12.3 per nine innings) in 2020 behind Bieber and deGrom. Bauer said he used to tease Bieber a lot for being the only member 2018 Indians’ rotation who failed to notch 200 strikeouts.

“Of course, he was only up for half a season,” Bauer said. “And he’s proceeded to beat me in strikeouts the last two years and he doesn’t let me forget about it.”

Trevor Bauer struck out 12 batters in his postseason start during the first round against Atlanta.Credit...Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Cleveland traded for Bauer — an Arizona Diamondback's first-round picks out of U.C.L.A. — before the 2013 season. Known for his brash personality and his mad scientist approach to pitching, Bauer went from an average starter to an excellent one in Cleveland. He used high-speed cameras, weighted-ball training, long toss, and precision pitch design before they became ubiquitous in modern pitching training.

“I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, coming from a kid who was never really the best kid on any team I was on,” Bauer said.

Bauer posted his best all-around season this year, albeit in a pandemic-shortened campaign in which he tossed 73 innings. He led the N.L. in E.R.A., walks and hits per inning pitched (0.795) and shutouts (two). His slider was one of the best pitches in baseball: Opponents hit .075 against it.

Bauer was also dominant in his only postseason start: He struck out 12 over seven and two-thirds scoreless innings in a loss to the Atlanta Braves in the Reds’ first-round exit.

While Bieber said Wednesday would have been special even if he had not won the award because he got to spend the day surrounded by his loved ones after an unusual season, Bauer said winning the Cy Young Award had “always” been on the front of his mind even though “a lot of people won’t talk about it like that.”


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