“You can go back six or seven years ago, and everything I said about Kluber, probably just put in Bieber’s name and it would be true,” Francona said. “Which is a big compliment to Bieber.”
Cleveland’s 24-year-old All-Star MVP is in the middle of a breakout season. One that’s seen him win 11 starts and lead all of baseball in complete games, as well as step to the forefront of a rotation that many expected to be the best in the game at the start of the year, particularly in the absence of the aforementioned Kluber, and following the trade of Trevor Bauer to Cincinnati.
It’s pretty obvious that Bieber is having himself the kind of year that Kluber enjoyed in 2014, when he won the first of his two Cy Young Awards at age 28, leading the American League in wins, starts and FIP. Francona drew a parallel between Bieber and Kluber based on their shared ability to figure out what works mechanically and to sustain that groove over long periods. Like the one Bieber appears to be in right now.
“It’s kind of like Kluber, when he hits a point in the season, he holds it,” Francona said. “Bieber has those trends and characteristics because all of the things we talk about, his hard work.”
Yes, the hard work. The work ethic that Kluber is famous for and Bieber seemed to bring with him from the minor leagues, materializing out of nowhere two months into last season. Kluber took a little longer to reach the big leagues with the Indians, but once Francona arrived in 2013, his ascent to the top tier of AL pitchers was rapid and definitive.
Bieber, likewise, has chewed up innings, relied on pinpoint command and benefited from the ability to strike out batters at an impressive clip. On Sunday, he reached 300 career strikeouts in just his 44th game and he’s walked one batter or none in 17 of his 24 starts this year.
But what about those quotes? Does Francona really believe that you can go back in time to when Kluber was on the cusp of becoming one of the AL’s most dominant pitchers and simply plug Bieber’s name into his pre- and post-game rhetoric and things would still make sense?
“You know how we feel about Kluber and his work ethic,” Francona said. “To put a guy like (Bieber) in there with him, I meant that as a huge compliment.”
Still, it seemed like an interesting challenge. So we hopped in the time machine and poured over hundreds of Kluber-related posts in the cleveland.com archives from the 2013 and 2014 seasons, culling a selection of Francona quotes about the future All-Star that fit the bill.
Then we audited our notes dating back to May of last season when Bieber joined the fray here in Cleveland.
And you know what? Tito was right.
Here’s an example:
“I think _____ has a very good grasp of controlling what he can control, especially for a younger guy.”
Sounds like Bieber, but that’s Francona talking about Kluber from 2014. Here’s another:
“_____ just pitches like a veteran out there. He’s getting better right in front of our eyes. It’s so much fun to watch.”
If you guessed 2014 Corey Kluber, you’d be wrong. That’s Francona talking about Bieber just last week.
One thing is for certain, if Bieber continues trending in his current direction, Francona will have plenty more to talk about.