Bryan Shaw? Bryan Shaw.

marc w · July 23, 2020 at 12:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s picked up former Indians and Rockies righty reliever Bryan Shaw. Shaw was most effective with the Tribe from 2013-2016, with 2.1 fWAR but 5 bWAR thanks to a much lower ERA than FIP. Some of that may have been luck, but it also reflected the fact that Shaw’s game was based on inducing weaker contact with his hard cutter. His K rates were never all that high, especially for a reliever in this day and age, but he was fairly effective thanks to his reliance on that hard, heavy cutter – a pitch that enabled him to be effective against lefties as well as righties. From 2013-2016, Shaw posted an ERA of exactly 3 (his FIP was 3.59), with 236 hits and 28 HRs allowed in 282 innings.

While he showed *some* platoon splits, he limited lefties significantly, with wOBA-against under .300 in two of those seasons. But thanks to his slider, he was able to absolutely dominate right handed bats. Because of that track record, the Rockies signed him to a three-year, $27 million deal. It…it did not go well. With the Rockies, Shaw was below replacement level by both fWAR and bWAR, sunk by lower K rates and sky-high hit rates. In 126 2/3 IP, he allowed 139 hits, 57 walks, and 21 HRs. Was this all Coors Field related? No, not really – in his first year in Colorado, he was much *better* at home than on the road. What’s going on?

Lookout Landing’s Michael Ajeto posits that a drop in velocity and (possibly related?) changes in movement on his cutter sapped his effectiveness. While his velocity is down a bit, it’s not actually all that different from his big years in Cleveland – it went up a bit in his final year in Cleveland, and it’s down from that, but it’s not different from, say, 2015. And it’s not just his cutter – his slider’s effectiveness has been going down for years, and became a serious problem in Colorado.

All of this has played havoc with his platoon splits. When he was good, he dominated righties (as a cutter/slider reliever, he really should) and was good against lefties. In Colorado, he was utterly destroyed by…righties. In two years, he faced a righty 324 times, and they hit .314 with a .578 slugging percentage and 17 HRs. This seems pretty dramatic.

One thing that jumps out is how he *used* his cutter. He didn’t use it any more or less than he had in Cleveland, but he did become hyper-focused on *where* he threw it. Here’s where he threw his cutter from 2014-2016 in Cleveland:
Cutter strikezone map 14-16
He used it up in the zone, but it wasn’t limited to one particular side of the zone. He typically like to keep it away from righties and lefties, but it was thrown in a different spot than his slider, which, in typical right fashion, he buried low and away from a RHB. Ok, so here’s where he used that cutter from 2017-19:
Shaw cutter 17-19

This looks like a slider heat map. It looks like *Shaw’s* slider heat map. Shaw kept it low and away pretty much all the time. My hunch here is that righties knew pretty much exactly where each pitch was going to go, and even if they didn’t know what type it’d be, that’s still a pretty big advantage.

The M’s bullpen looks pretty dire, and there’s no real risk in picking up Shaw. Fellow Rockies FA reliever bust Jake McGee was also released by the Rockies last week and ended up signing with the Dodgers. If he’s bad, he’s probably not going to be as bad as the back end of the M’s bullpen, weakened by Gerson Bautista’s injury, Yoshihisa Hirano’s late start/injury, and Austin Adams’ injury. There are some clear steps the M’s could take to see if he was telegraphing his pitches or his approach, and if he’s just done, there’s no harm in kicking the tires. He gives the ‘pen some experience, and that’s in pretty short supply. Shaw may be relieved to be pitching at sea level again, too. All in all a pretty harmless depth move, and one that might give the M’s a minor trade chip at some point.


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