Relief pitcher Bryan Shaw is an arm that fans either love unconditionally, or passionately hate with very, very little in-between. The team and Mr. Shaw are about to embark into the deep, dark road of potential arbitration for the third year, hopeful to avoid conflict.
In January of 2016, the Indians and the setup man came to an agreement on a 1 year/$2.75 million contract, avoiding arbitration. What set the tone for a $1.2M increase in salary, from $1.55M in 2015, were his solid numbers the season before, having his second consecutive .500 season (3-3) with a 2.95 ERA, 54 strikeouts and 21 earned runs in 66.2 innings of work.
During the regular season this year, the righty was known for his major slip-ups that were few and far between, but damning. He was the 8th inning guy to closer Cody Allen, and though he did his job to the best of his abilities, Shaw seemed slightly out of place. His ERA from the first half dropped from a 4.04 to a 2.32 in the second, and many of his other stats followed. In the first half of the season Shaw gave up 16 earned runs in 35.2 IP and 7 home runs, while in the second he only gave up 8 earned runs and a single homer in 31.0 innings. Why am I harping so much on the difference between the first and second half? The addition of closer Andrew Miller at the trade deadline.
When the Indians began to commit to the idea of adding crucial pieces to the roster, many of the players already on the team vowed to step up and do whatever was asked in the name of wins. This included the pitchers, pinpointing most on the bullpen guys like Shaw. With the insertion of Miller in the pen, this gave the rest of the relief guys a little breathing room to work with, and early in the season, it looked like Shaw was one who could benefit greatly from this. Moving him from the set-up to the 7th sounded subtle, but looked to take off the perfect amount of pressure from his shoulders. He was no longer being put between a rock and a hard place on the mound.
His August reflected this, putting in 11 innings of work with an astounding 0.00 ERA and a pretty 1.00 WHIP, his lowest of the season. The reliever had every right to own the trust of the fans, but to his last pitch in the playoffs, no matter what type of season he had, 90% of us still cringed when he was called to the mound and watched behind our hands nervously as he pitched. But that doesn’t mean the Indians have the same nervous pessimism the fans do.
At this point we are left wondering if we will see Shaw in Spring Training next year. His repertoire since 2013 is consistent and comfortable, giving the 29 year old built-up value going into this off-season. A standout part of that repertoire are his chart-topping number of games played, finishing in first in the AL in 2014 and 16 (80 and 75), and third in 2015 (74). Would it be smart to put him in a package deal for a bat while everyone else around the ALC are in rebuild mode? Or is it safer to keep as much of the pitching intact after the team almost cracked the pitching code in 2016? If they do decide to keep him and resign, the final year of arbitration for him could come to an interesting conclusion between what he believes he’s worth and what the team believes he’s worth.
Whether you like him or not, Shaw has walked out of the bullpen happily at the beck and call of Francona, ready to do his job. Because he’s been so consistent might be the reason his mistakes outshine his achievements, but those cannot take away the numbers he’s put together to prove his worth in some scary situations. He’s the rope bridge between starters and closers, and in the coming months we shall see if the Indians see the value in said bridge, or layout the blueprints for a new one.