Tanner Bibee on His MLB Debut (and His Plus Pitch Mix)

Tanner Bibee
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Tanner Bibee will be coming off a successful big-league debut when he takes the mound for the Cleveland Guardians tonight against the New York Yankees. Last Wednesday, the 24-year-old right-hander allowed six hits and one run with no walks and eight strikeouts over 5.2 innings versus the Colorado Rockies. Since starting his professional career last season, Bibee has a minor-league resume that includes a 10–2 record, a 2.13 ERA, and 186 strikeouts in 148 innings.

His ascent up prospect rankings has been swift. Unranked within the Cleveland system a year ago, the 2021 fifth-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton came into the current campaign No. 70 on our Top 100, with a 50 FV. As our lead prospect writer Eric Longenhagen wrote in February, “What a difference a year makes… Bibee now looks like a polished mid-rotation prospect.”

Bibee discussed his debut and the plus repertoire he brings with him to the mound when the Guardians visited Fenway Park this past weekend.


David Laurila: You just made your big-league debut. How would you describe it?

Tanner Bibee: “It was a whirlwind. It was hectic. It was all of the above. Every single thing that you can think of — the emotions, all of the work I’ve put in to get here… it was all just crazy hectic.”

Laurila: You hit the first batter you faced with a pitch.

Bibee: “I got [Charlie] Blackmon 1–2 and then tried to really hump up on a heater. I probably missed my spot by about 30 inches. I yanked it and drilled him.”

Laurila: Basically, you overthrew the pitch.

Bibee: “100 percent. I mean, I do that sometimes. I’ll hump up and try to throw a fastball up towards the top, but the command wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be on that one. Obviously.”

Laurila: Describe your fastball in general — the movement profile, et cetera.

Bibee: “So I’m trying to get like a ride-y or vert-y fastball. Hoppy. However you want to say it. I’m usually trying to get it up pretty high up there, the top of the zone, for swings and misses or popups. I would say it’s a pretty true fastball, or it can also be kind of more cutty. It kind of bounces between those two. I don’t get any run on it.”

Laurila: Do you want it to cut, or would you ideally just get backspin and ride?

Bibee: “Ideally ride. I mean, the cut doesn’t really matter to me as long as I can control it. If I get both of them, great. If I get one and can control it, great. But overall, I’m more searching for the ride and the command as opposed to cut.”

Laurila: Jumping back to your debut, did things speed up on you a little after the HBP, or were you able to immediately erase it from your mind?

Bibee: “I would say it maybe sped up a little bit. I fell behind [Jurickson] Profar, I don’t remember if it was 2–0 or 1–0, but I do know that I was like, ‘I don’t want to give up a run in the first inning of my debut.’ So after I hit Blackmon, I kind of had to take a deep breath and be like, ‘OK, it’s fine. Got the first one out of the way.’ I ended up getting Profar to pop out on a fastball. Later on, I struck him out on a changeup.”

Laurila: You got out of the first without allowing a run — I believe one of the batters lined out — then struck out the side in the second. What was that inning like?

Bibee: “Night and day from the first one. I felt like I was way more in control. It was a punch to [Ryan] McMahon on a change, and then I got two righties, [Alan] Trejo and I think [Brenton] Doyle, on sliders.”

Laurila: Did you shake at all during the outing or just go with what the catcher put down?

Bibee:Cam Gallagher was back there, and no, not really. I think the only shakes that outing were fake shakes.”

Laurila: Was your pitch breakdown pretty much what we can expect going forward?

Bibee: “Ideally, I’ll throw a few more changeups. I also threw more sliders [40] than fastballs [36], and ideally I don’t really want that either. I had to lean on my slider a little bit because the command of my fastball wasn’t exactly there. Ideally, I’m throwing something like 50% fastballs, 25% sliders, 15 changeups, and the rest curveballs. Something in that vicinity.”

Laurila: I think I saw that you were 50–50 fastball/slider against lefties and heavy slider against righties. That said, how would you describe your slider?

Bibee: “It’s definitely my primary off-speed against righties. As for how I would describe it… it doesn’t look like it on video, but it’s actually a little like a sweeper. It’s 82–84 [mph] with about 12 inches of horizontal. It’s below the axis sometimes, sometimes it’s on, and sometimes a little bit above. I think that’s what you’d categorize as a sweeper – a sweeper slider, or however you want to say it.”

Laurila: Do you consider it a sweeper?

Bibee: “I just call it a slider. Sweeper is kind of a new word, especially this year, but yeah, I’ve always just called it a slider. [Pitching coach Carl Willis] does as well. As long as it’s effective. I mean, I’ll throw any pitch if it’s effective.”

Laurila: Would you consider yourself a pitching nerd? In other words, do you like going into the pitch lab and learning how your stuff plays?

Bibee: “Yeah. I kind of like tinkering, whether it’s off-season bullpens or whatever. I like trying to figure out what works for me and works for other people. That kind of started at Cal State Fullerton a little bit, and then once I got here, I mean, the Guardians are really analytically driven.”

Laurila: Have any notable changes come from that?

Bibee: “I would say my fastball got a lot more hoppy. My fastball coming in here was very dead zone. It was a very flat heater. My slider kind of bundles my curveball a little bit, it’s not very big speed difference, so I’ve had to figure out a difference with that. My changeup has also gotten better.”

Laurila: Can you clarify what you mean by “bundles”?

Bibee: “Blended. That would be a better word for it.”

Laurila: How did you improve the ride on your fastball?

Bibee: “It was mostly how I was moving on the mound, my mechanics — how I was moving my body, toes up to my shoulders. That’s kind of what helped me figure out the ride, figure out why I wasn’t getting so much gyro spin instead of straight backspin.”

Laurila: What about your changeup?

Bibee: “I think what makes it good is the speed differential. It’s not a super dive-y wipeout pitch like Devin Williams’ pitch, but if they’re sitting on it or they don’t see it, it’s going to be pretty good. When I throw it, I’m more putting a lot of pressure on my thumb. That’s what Trevor Hoffman used to do with his changeup. Putting a ton of pressure on your thumb kind of turns your hand naturally when you come through, and for me that’s a better key than consciously trying to pronate. If I consciously tried to pronate, I’d probably miss everything.”

Laurila: Jumping back to your debut, was anything notable outside the first two innings?

Bilbee: “Not really. I kind of got into a groove, unconscious, and it was just baseball at that point. I was just pitching.”

Laurila: That said, it was the big leagues. Did it not differ from pitching in the minors?

Bibee: “Once I settled in, the only real difference was that everything around me was a lot nicer. I knew the hitters in the box. I knew the guys in the field. And there was an extra deck on top. Yeah.”

Laurila: How aware were you of specific hitters, as opposed to mostly just trying to execute pitches?

Bibee: “I’ve watched Charlie Blackmon. I’ve watched Kris Bryant. I’ve watched C.J. Cron. Even Jurickson Profar. So I’ve watched them for a long time, I know who they are, but I wouldn’t say… I mean, they’re trying to beat me just like I’m trying to beat them. It’s either don’t care about it or get whacked around.”

Laurila: What do you remember feeling when you came out of the game? You were lifted with two outs [in the sixth inning].

Bibee: “Walking back to the dugout was kind of weird. I was hoping that my runner on first didn’t score — that was my first thought — but once we got out of the inning, I took a deep breath. It was like, ‘Wow, that was a crazy experience.’”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Left of Centerfield
11 months ago

Thanks David, great interview!

Cleveland looks like they could have a great rotation in about a year, even if they do eventually lose Bieber. Now about that offense…