Bryan Shaw Serves as Bullpen Linchpin
When the Indians acquired Trevor Bauer and Drew Stubbs last winter as part of a three-team swap with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds, the two relievers that accompanied them to Cleveland seemed like an afterthought.
Fast forward one year, and the Tribe would have a hard time imagining their bullpen without the arm of right-hander Bryan Shaw. The 26-year-old proved himself to be an invaluable part of the pitching staff in 2013, finishing the year with a 3.07 FIP and a 23.1 percent strikeout rate through 75 innings.
In seven innings this spring, Shaw appears to have picked up exactly where he left off, striking out six and walking none, with a 2.57 ERA. He and fellow reliever Cody Allen were able to ease into spring training, since the two right-handers had already locked up their bullpen jobs after having stellar 2013 seasons.
In a Cleveland.com article written by Paul Hoynes, Terry Francona talked earlier this spring about his plans for the Tribe’s set-up men, both at Goodyear and into the regular season.
“Cody and Bryan Shaw pitched a lot last year and they’re going to pitch a lot this year,” said Francona. “I’d like to start them about a week behind everyone else. This will give us a chance to look at the other guys.”
At the end of last season, the Indians discussed the idea of using Shaw or Allen as the team’s closer, but the signing of John Axford gave the team more options. Instead, Shaw and Allen will work primarily in the seventh and eighth innings.
In 2013, Shaw was one of the league’s most reliable relievers, a trend which he’ll look to continue as this new season begins. His 75 innings-pitched led the Indians’ bullpen, and ranked seventh among all American League relievers.
Hitters facing Shaw batted just .211 against him last year, and while they had a slightly lower BABIP than his career average (.271 compared to .297) there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat the results he had last season. Over parts of three seasons in the majors, the right-hander has steadily improved in K/9, HR/9 and batting average against. Since 2011, he has dramatically increased the used of his slider, which might account for some of that improvement.
While his walk rate jumped from 6.6 percent in 2011 to 9.5 percent in 2012, it decreased to 8.9 percent last season. If he continues to cut back on walks, it will limit the damage hitters are able to do against him even further.
After getting off to a strong start in 2013, Shaw did struggle slightly mid-season, but he managed to turn things around in time to help the Indians in their race for the playoffs. Even those struggles were brief, stemming from a bad week in late June where he allowed seven runs over three outings, and another rough patch in August, when he gave up five runs over two consecutive appearances. He was able to return to form by late August, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason that the team should be especially concerned with Shaw’s high ERA during those months.
With Shaw, Allen and the reemergence of Vinnie Pestano, the Indians’ will have a selection of reliable set-up men to choose from this season. If Shaw can continue to provide the same type of consistent relief that he did in 2013, the late innings will be extremely challenging for opposing hitters.