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Countdown to Opening Day – 27
The Cleveland Indians have taken the conservative approach with several of their key arms at the beginning of spring training this year, waiting to debut pitchers Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, and Cody Allen.
Setup man Bryan Shaw received the same treatment, making his first appearance of the Cactus League season with an inning of work in Sunday’s win over the San Diego Padres. He worked a scoreless frame, giving up a pair of hits but retiring all three outs on strikeouts.
Shaw has been an underappreciated part of manager Terry Francona’s relief corps throughout his four-year stay in the organization. While his seasons have generally included a few rough spots to merit some trepidation about his return to the mound each time out, his end of the year results have continued to be those of a durable and quality reliever, one who has been trusted with the task of getting the ball to Allen in the ninth inning as the team’s setup man.
The faith that he has earned from Francona was evident throughout the postseason, when Francona used Shaw in tandem with Allen and All-Star Andrew Miller to pose an intimidating task for the Indians’ playoff opposition to contend with. He made eleven postseason appearances, including all three games of the American League Division Series, four straight of the American League Championship Series, and four more trips to the rubber in the World Series. He earned a pair of wins and four holds while striking out 12 over ten and one-third innings. The numbers overall were not quite up to his regular season standards, as he posted a 4.35 ERA, a 1.84 WHIP, and he allowed opposing batters to hit .304 against him.
His regular season numbers in 2016 were not far off from his career norms. His ERA was a quarter of a run higher. His WHIP was just 0.036 higher than his career average. His hit rate was down and his strikeout rate was up by nearly than a batter and a half per nine innings, but his walk rate jumped was 0.8 batters per nine more than his typical production.
Shaw was 2-5 in the regular season with one save, 25 holds, a 3.24 ERA, and a 1.26 WHIP.
Concerns about his extensive workload over the last several years leading to a substantial regression at some point were once again raised early in the 2016 campaign when he gave up five runs in a blown save and loss to the Chicago White Sox on April 9 and four more runs two games later to the New York Mets. He would allow just one run for the month after that and just two in May as he was locked in firmly on the mound for the Tribe.
He hit another rough patch in the first half of June when he surrendered runs in three straight outings and was dealt losses in the latter two. But he would once again find himself and would work 13 straight outings without giving up a run. After allowing four runs to the Royals on July 18 in his fourth loss of the year, he would rattle off 18 straight scoreless appearances as the calendar flipped to September.
He would finish the second half of the season with a 1-2 record with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 34 outings, a noticeable improvement over his 1-3 mark with a 4.04 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in 41 first half games. He cut his earned runs in that span in half and, after allowing seven home runs in the first three months of the year, he allowed just one after the All-Star break.
His struggles away from home were evident in the numbers. Shaw was 2-0 with a save in 40 games at home with a 1.56 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, but he took all five of his losses in 35 road games with a 5.06 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.
For the second time in the last three seasons, Shaw made the most appearances of any pitcher in the American League. His 75 games in 2016 marked the fourth straight season he has topped 70 outings or more in a season. He struck out his highest number of batters since 2013, but he did match his career high with eight home runs allowed.
Now 29 years old, the right-hander enters the final year of his contract with the Indians. He avoided arbitration with the club in January when he and the front office came to terms on a $4.6 million deal, a big jump from his $2.75 million contract of a year ago. He will come at a big price, but if he pitches the way that he has during stretches of his Cleveland career and is able to eat up as many important late innings as he has in the past, it will equate to money well spent for the Tribe.
The vaunted bullpen that he is a part of has become one of the Indians’ biggest weapons after its strong October showing last year. Cleveland will need continued excellence from its back end relievers to make a return showing to meaningful games once again this fall.
Other notable 27’s in Indians history: Steve Gromek (1948-53), Herb Score (1955-59), Leon Wagner (1964-68), Dick Bosman (1973-75), Mel Hall (1984-88), Jaret Wright (1997-2002)
Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images