Shaw Has Had His Struggles, but He Hasn’t Been All Bad
Bob Toth | On 21, Jul 2016
You get nervous when Bryan Shaw takes the mound in a close game for the Cleveland Indians.
It’s okay to admit it. You aren’t alone. Embrace the fear. While the concern is merited, it may be a bit extreme and reactive. Your views are just intensified by the fact that when Shaw hasn’t had it, he really hasn’t had it this season.
After the disastrous eighth inning in Monday night’s ugly 7-3 loss in Kansas City, the Indians’ setup man fell to 1-4 on the season with three blown saves, a 4.58 ERA, and a 1.37 WHIP. But rather than let that bad outing stew and fester and eat at the mind of the 28-year-old veteran reliever, manager Terry Francona threw him right back into the fire, reminding Shaw of the trust that he had in him.
What did Shaw do?
He came on in the eighth inning of a three-run game, looking to protect the advantage against Kansas City’s four, five, and six hitters – veterans Kendrys Morales, Salvador Perez, and Alex Gordon. He struck out Morales on three pitches swinging. He struck out Perez on three pitches, again swinging. Looking to avoid being another statistic, Gordon grounded back to Shaw, who tossed to first to end the inning. The Indians won 7-4 as Shaw earned his 16th hold of the season.
That’s why Francona is a top-tier Major League manager with two World Series rings and the man forever remembered in Beantown as the skipper who ended Boston’s Curse of the Bambino in 2004.
Shaw’s numbers on the year are misleading, heavily skewed by a handful of regrettable outings.
The sixth-year pro allowed five runs on April 9 in a loss in Chicago to the White Sox. He worked two-thirds of an inning and was charged with five runs on four hits (including one of seven homers allowed this season). He entered the game in the bottom of the seventh ahead by one and the loss was on him as all five runs crossed with him standing in the center of the diamond.
One week later, April 16, he suffered a similar fate. Two-thirds of an inning pitched, four runs on three hits with a pair of walks allowed against the New York Mets. He entered with a six-run lead and left with the advantage down to two. The Indians would hold on to win, 7-5, but it definitely left a sour taste in fans’ mouths in the early stages of the season.
After that, he was actually quite good, but fans did not notice because it was easier to sit on the edge of the seat nervous than to realize that Shaw had turned a corner. He gave up a run on April 24 against Detroit, another on May 13 against Minnesota, and one on May 25 in Chicago. The latter two came on solo home runs. In two of the circumstances, the runs scored with Cleveland’s lead at either three or four runs; the run against the Twins was costly, as the Eduardo Nunez solo shot broke a 4-4 tie and gave Minnesota the lead in the top of the eighth. The Tribe scored three in the bottom half and won, 7-6.
In that block of 23 games, the Indians went 18-5. Shaw had no decisions, but earned nine holds, worked 20 innings, struck out 20, walked only five, and allowed 14 hits. He had a 1.35 ERA, a .200 batting average against, and a 0.95 WHIP.
He had three rough outings from June 9 to June 14. He allowed solo runs in each of the first two games, one a 5-3 win in Seattle, the other a 4-3 loss in Los Angeles. He coughed up two against the Royals on the 14th, as the two-run homer by All-Star catcher Perez turned a 2-1 Indians lead into a 3-2 deficit.
That was a particularly bad stretch. If he lost some of your faith then, they were not the best of times.
How did Shaw bounce back from the unpleasantness? Thirteen straight scoreless outings. He worked 13 1/3 innings, earned four holds, walked seven but allowed just five hits, and struck out 16. Batters hit .114 against him. He had a WHIP of 0.90.
Monday’s outing was bad. He gave up three hits. He walked the final two batters he faced. He retired just two outs while facing six batters. Two runners scored on his watch, while reliever Jeff Manship did him and the team no favors by going single, walk, grand slam to the first three batters he faced in relief to tack three more earned runs on Shaw’s stat sheet.
The setup man was also coming off of his first two-inning effort of the season just two days earlier and was vital in keeping a 4-4 tie at that score with scoreless innings in the eighth and ninth, hardly innings devoid of stress and intensity.
When Shaw has been bad this season, it has been in bunches. It has been bunched up big in an outing three times, one bunch was a bad stretch on three straight appearances, and several other times he allowed a run here or there, but with many not changing the final outcome of the game. But if you take away the results of the three worst outings mentioned above (the nine earned runs in two outings in April and the numbers from Monday), his ERA drops from 4.46 to 1.64, nearly three earned runs per nine innings.
On three bad days, Shaw allowed 13 runs on ten hits with four walks over two innings (58.50 ERA, 7.00 WHIP, three homers allowed) while striking out one (4.5 K/9).
Over his other 42 games this season, he has allowed seven runs on 26 hits with 14 walks in 38 1/3 innings (1.64 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, four homers allowed) while striking out 43 (10.10 K/9).
You can’t actually do that (ignore the bad games). But looking at things in that statistical vacuum shows just how drastically and heavily those three games altered his numbers.
If you are one that is concerned about Shaw being overused by Francona, he is on pace for 77 appearances again this season. He made 74 last season, 80 in 2014, and 70 in his first season in Cleveland after being acquired from Arizona.
If velocity is your concern, it shouldn’t be. MLB.com’s Statcast lists his cutter at an average speed of 93.93 MPH. Fangraphs.com puts his average cutter’s velocity at 93.4 MPH with a top speed of 96.6. Last season, his cutter averaged 91.9 and was 92.6 the season before.
His slider is also up nearly a mile and a half per hour from last season while getting better results – batters are hitting just .225 off of it (.257 last season) and have struck out eleven times against it (15 times in all of 2015).
His platoon splits are close, with lefties hitting .246 against him while righties have hit .235 this season (the latter have historically hit worse against him). Lefties have benefited from ten walks in 75 plate appearances while righties have drawn eight in 94 trips.
He has not been as good away from home, allowing a .270 average on the road with all four losses and a 5.87 ERA in 23 innings. At Progressive Field, where the Indians have played significantly fewer games so far this season, he has limited hitters to a .197 average in 20 games with a 2.60 ERA.
In situations deemed medium and high leverage situations, Shaw has been at his best. He has struck out 17 batters in 49 plate appearances against him in medium leverage situations, allowing a .238 batting average against. In high leverage spots, he has struck out 19 in 75 plate appearances with a .231 average against.
He has the misfortune as the primary eighth inning man to see the opposing team’s best hitters more often than not. He has faced exactly 100 batters from the first four spots in the batting order. He has faced the five and six hitters another 37 times, while the bottom three hitters in the order have faced Shaw just 32 total times this season.
He faces the best of the best nearly every time out. It’s all high pressure, high intensity stuff for Shaw.
Opposing batters are hitting just .158 against him with runners in scoring position and .210 in general with runners on base. In the clutch situation, with two outs and a runner in scoring position, he has allowed just three runs in 20 plate appearances this season for a .067 batting average. He has taken the mound with runners already on base in ten different games this season (12 runners total) and just two have scored on him.
Shaw will be okay. He has been okay for the majority of the season, outside of a couple of upsetting outliers. That small selection of games sticks out more because of how much Shaw affected the outcome of the final score, but like a true and valuable setup man, his best works this season (and there have been many) have been the ones you didn’t even notice.
Photo: Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports