Currently Bryan Shaw has a 9.64 ERA. This is quite an alarming fact for fans of the Tribe, worrying what is wrong with their important set up man. Combined with closer Cody Allen’s 6.97 ERA, many fans are wondering if the once solid back end of the bullpen is falling apart.
It is not.
Consider the fact that Shaw has only pitched in nine and one-third innings and Allen has pitched in ten and one-third. Both of their ERAs are inflated due to low innings because they are relievers early on in the season. Also consider that in only three of his eleven appearances, Shaw gave up a single run, and in five of Allen’s eleven appearances, he gave up a run. No reliever is perfect with a 0.00 ERA. All of the greats, including Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman, blew quite a few saves in their careers. So perhaps it is better that Shaw and Allen are getting their mistakes in early rather than in September when the pressure is on.
Let’s take a closer look at Shaw, because his ERA is higher, and his struggles are easier to decipher.
One possible reason for Shaw’s struggles is that he hasn’t been inducing groundballs nearly as much as last year, though this was a problem for him during his struggles early last year as well. In 2015, his groundball percent was 45.8, much higher than the 23.1% it is at this year. However, in April 2015, it was at 29.2%, so Shaw knows how to fix this problem.
Only one time has the lead changed while Shaw was on the mound, when he gave up five earned runs to the White Sox on April 9. In all other contests, the Tribe stayed ahead, behind, or tied. So, except for that one outing, Shaw has done his job, leaving the Tribe in a position to win.
Shaw’s other appearance with multiple runs allowed was on April 16, when he gave up four earned runs to the Mets. After that outing, he has seemed to figure it out, posting a 1.50 ERA since. According to Jordan Bastian of mlb.com, Shaw worked on a changeup during spring training which led to troubles with his mechanics. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway told Bastian that “[Shaw] started getting underneath and [was] pushing the ball a little bit more on all of his pitches.” Callaway told Shaw to stick to throwing his cutter and slider, a change that fixed his early issues.
Another reason Tribe fans should not be concerned about Shaw’s poor start is his sudden increase in velocity in 2016. According to Fangraphs pitch f/x data, his cutter is averaging 93.0 mph and his slider is coming in at 82.2 mph, both higher than last year. The speed increase leads to harder hit balls, as shown by the jump from the 19.9 hard hit percent against Shaw in 2015 to 30.8% this year.
And those hard hit balls are, unluckily for the Tribe, landing for hits. This year, batters have a .391 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against Shaw, much higher than his career mark of .284. Shaw has been quite unlucky so far this year.
Though his overall numbers suggest otherwise, Shaw has not had a bad start to the year. He had an unlucky April and will turn it around in May, just as he did last year.
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