Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 27: Bryan Shaw

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 27 days

No pitcher in all of baseball can claim to have taken the mound more than Bryan Shaw over the course of his three seasons in a Cleveland Indians uniform.

The next man on the list after Shaw’s 224 appearances since 2013 is his fellow bullpen mate, Cody Allen, who has pitched in 223 games in that stretch.

It is no surprise to anyone who has watched Indians skipper Terry Francona manage his bullpen in his return to the city of Cleveland. But it is always fair to wonder how long some of his relievers can maintain the heavy workload.

The question is poised of the 28-year-old right-hander Shaw more frequently than it is of Allen, especially after Shaw led all of baseball with 80 games pitched during the 2014 season and set a new career high for innings pitched. But in 2014, it was hard to argue the results, as he won five games, saved a pair, had his lowest full-season ERA with a 2.59 mark, and added an impressive 1.09 WHIP.

He was not as sharp during the spring last year and it carried over into the regular season. Normally strong to open the season, his ERA was more than double his previous average for April and he ended his eleven appearances in the first month of 2015 with a 1.64 WHIP after giving up ten hits and a pair of walks in just seven and one-third innings.

After the rough go to start his campaign, he settled in really nicely. From the beginning of May until the end of July, he allowed four earned runs and just 17 hits over 28 1/3 innings (1.27 ERA; 0.92 WHIP). If there were any major complaints to be uttered during that span, it may have been the nine walks he allowed, but even that improved after giving up four each in May and June.

Shaw was the proverbial workhorse again for Francona down the stretch and the intense workload may have taken its toll some by season’s end. In the final two months of the season and with the team still loosely in contention for a potential Wild Card spot in the American League, Shaw appeared 31 times. Unlike the solid three-month run in the middle of the year, his numbers spiked to the tune of a 4.45 ERA and 1.41 WHIP in those final two months. Opposing batters hit .278 off of him with four home runs and he gave up another eight free passes.

He ended the season with a 3-3 mark and two saves, finishing with a 2.95 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 74 games, just one game off of having the highest total in the AL. Despite fewer games pitched than the previous season and some slightly elevated numbers, his efforts on the mound from May to July salvaged the statistics overall. His strikeout rate per nine innings (7.6) was right on par with his career average and his walk rate per nine innings (2.7) was below his average and just slightly higher than his 2014 numbers.

The most notable differences in his pitching line would be the jump in hits per nine innings (8.3, an increase of 1.1 from the previous season) and homers per nine (1.125, compared to his career average of 0.60). Despite pitching in 12 1/3 fewer innings compared to a season ago, he faced 48 fewer batters.

Shaw also uncharacteristically struggled against right-handed batters last season, allowing them to hit .252 off of him over the course of the year. He limited their ability some to get on base by only issuing them eight free passes, but he allowed single-season highs in hits (38), doubles (seven), and home runs (five) to batters he should have matched up well against, based on his previous results. Over the first four seasons of his career, he had held right-handed hitters to a .198 average at the plate and was well below that mark in 2014 with a .168 average against.

While he struggled against the right-handers compared to his previous norms, he limited lefties to a .226 average, but an elevated .308 on-base percentage after giving up eleven of his 19 walks for the year. He entered the season with a .285 average allowed to lefties over the course of his career.

Shaw’s role in Francona’s bullpen is very clear. The Tribe manager will rely on him to be out there in the seventh or eighth innings of every close game possible and to be the man to step into Allen’s role in the event that Cleveland’s closer is unable to pitch for any reason. With question marks galore in the Indians bullpen after the handful of trustworthy returning late inning options, Francona needs a reliable and consistent Shaw to get the ball into the hands of Allen for the save as often as possible because with the way the AL Central (and AL in general) is built, each and every win is going to be important in 2016.

Photo: Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY Sports

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