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2013 Indians Player Preview: Bryan Shaw

As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we continue our look at the relief corps with a new member of the Indians’ bullpen: Bryan Shaw.

Background: The Arizona Diamondbacks took Shaw out of California State University-Long Beach in the second round of the 2008 MLB amateur draft, two picks behind Jason Knapp and two picks ahead of Trey Haley. He struggled in the lower minors—a problem compounded by a short-lived move to the rotation—but by 2011 he was back in the bullpen for good and made quick progress from there. He made his MLB debut that June and more or less remained in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen until he was dealt to the Indians along with Trevor Bauer and Matt Albers in the Shin-Soo Choo trade.

Last year: Shaw struggled to follow up on his head-turning rookie year, but he turned in a solid sophomore season in 2012. The 25-year-old right-hander made 64 appearances for Arizona, pitching to a 3.49 ERA (120 ERA+) with a 1.42 WHIP in 59.1 innings. Though he still managed to keep the ball on the ground quite well (56 percent groundball rate), his strikeouts were down (6.2 K/9) and his walks were up (3.6 BB/9). The DIPS numbers were more skeptical of his performance than the traditional stats, with estimates of his true talent level ranging from a 3.83 SIERA to a 4.80 tERA.

Baseball Prospectus considered Shaw to be a replacement-level player in 2012, while Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs pegged him at 0.3 and 0.4 WAR, respectively.

Key factor: Velocity. Pitchf/x had Shaw’s 2012 fastball velocity down more than three full miles per hour from 2011, a drop so dramatic that it would give even Ubaldo Jimenez pause. As a result, opposing hitters became more selective against Shaw and made noticeably better contact when they swung—hence the drop in strikeouts and the rise in walks. Whether or not he can regain a few ticks on his fastball could mean the difference between Shaw being a solid middle reliever or a replaceable mop-up guy.

2013 projections: Courtesy of FanGraphs. (*—estimated with the Simple WAR Calculator)

Want to see something striking? Compare these projections for Shaw with the same systems’ projections for Matt Albers. They’re almost identical.

Best-case scenario: Shaw’s velocity comes back, and as a result his strikeouts go up and his walks go down. Essentially, he’s the same pitcher he was in 2011—a dependable reliever with an ERA in the mid-to-high 2.00’s and the kind of guy you could feel comfortable going to in high-leverage situations. He stakes a claim to a spot in the Tribe’s bullpen for years to come and emerges as the hidden gem of the Shin-Soo Choo trade.

Worst-case scenario: Shaw’s velocity is gone for good, and his heretofore success with outperforming his peripherals comes to an end. He’s a so-so pitcher with an ERA around 4.00—fine for low-leverage innings, but rather ordinary for a bullpen guy. He’s a capable reliever, but not a special one.

What to expect: Shaw might never again match his 2012 numbers, but even if he doesn’t get his velocity back his wormburning ways should allow him to hang on in The Show without hesitation. I like Oliver’s projection for 2013, though perhaps with slightly fewer innings.

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