Tag Archives: Travis Shaw

Travis Shaw is primed for an All-Star season in 2019

One could make the argument that Travis Shaw already enjoyed his breakout season. One would intelligently say his break out happened in 2017 when Shaw set career highs in wRC+ and home runs. And really no one can reasonably disagree with that, because it’s true. Shaw broke out the minute he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, when he proved he was capable of being more than just a platoon player. I believe Shaw is capable of more, though, and I think that 2019 will be his true coming out party, because in 2019, he’s destined to be an All-Star.

Shaw is entering his age-29 season and has produced 3.5 WAR and 3.6 WAR in the last two seasons, respectively. The left-handed slugger crushed 31 home runs during his first year in Milwaukee and followed that up with 32 this past season. His wRC+ stayed consistent as well, from 120 in 2017 to 119 in 2018, both well above league average. According to WAR and wRC+, Shaw produced nearly identical seasons. Overall, he’s been an extremely reliable and a dangerous hitter as a Brewers regular, and yet, there’s plenty of room for improvement, and that starts with a simple turn of luck.

By now, we all know that batting average is a flawed statistic, but I feel must address it here, because in this case, it’s important. In 2017, Shaw’s batting average was a respectable .273. In 2018, his average dropped like Paul Ryan’s approval rating, and he ended the year batting only .241. His low batting average, coupled with a handful of other statistics, is one of the biggest reasons I believe Shaw will take a tremendous step forward during the 2019 campaign.

Let’s take a look at Shaw’s batting average, on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play.

BA OBP BABIP
2017 .273 .349 .312
2018 .241 .345 .242


This is fairly telling. Shaw’s batting average on balls in play — which generally shows the amount of good or bad luck a hitter/pitcher has — fell by 70 points. Shaw went from owning the 62nd-highest BABIP (league average was .300) to the 134th-highest BABIP, or seventh-lowest among qualified hitters, depending on how you want to phrase it. That’s eye-opening.

So what happened?

For starters, Shaw fought through a wrist injury last season. Wrist injuries are famous for zapping bat speed and subsequently lowering exit velocities, and though Shaw’s exit velocity didn’t move more than a hair in 2018, his hard-hit rate noticeably dropped a few percentage points. Shaw also hit more pop ups, another sign of poor contact. His wrist injury could be reasonably blamed for both. Shaw additionally sees a lot of shifts, which makes it harder for hits to fall, particularly for pull hitters. Shaw faced the shift more often in 2018 than in 2017, and his batting average on ground balls fell from .246 to .197, but I’m just not a believer that a six percent shift increase is the cause of Shaw’s 50-point drop in grounder BABIP. Plus his ground-ball rate significantly declined this past season, so we can’t say he’s hitting too many grounders in general. Blaming his low BABIP solely on grounders into the shift just isn’t accurate. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you’ll believe Statcast.

Travis Shaw 2018
wOBA against no shift .341
wOBA against the shift .396

Moving on.

The thing that stands out to me the most is Shaw’s still awesome on-base percentage. Despite his batting average suffering a sharp decline, his OBP stayed consistent. And that got me thinking. How many hitters in 2018 managed an 100-point difference between their on-base percentage and batting average on balls in play (minimum 200 plate appearances)? The list must be small, right? Because that’s a huge gap.

Name OBP BABIP OBP-BABIP
Jose Ramirez .387 .252 .135
Carlos Santana .352 .231 .121
Mike Trout .460 .346 .114
Alex Bregman .394 .289 .105
Bryce Harper .393 .289 .104
Russell Martin .338 .234 .104
Travis Shaw .345 .242 .103
Tony Wolters .292 .189 .103
Aaron Hicks .366 .264 .102

The list, is in fact, small. Only six players in 2018 recorded a bigger gap between their OBP and BABIP than Shaw, and some of them make sense. Carlos Santana has always been a high-OBP, low-BABIP hitter, and of course, Mike Trout is going have a significant gap when his OBP is a whopping .460.

But let’s focus back on Shaw. Shaw’s on-base percentage remained high because he discovered a new-found sense of plate discipline. His walk rate jumped over three percentage points, while he cut his strikeouts by over four percent. Even though Shaw made significant strides at the plate in 2018, he was burdened by horrible luck. Historically bad luck, actually. Since 2010, there have only been 10 hitters (14 individual seasons) who have recorded an on-base percentage of .330 or higher with a BABIP of .250 or lower (minimum 300 plate appearances).

Player Year OBP BAbip
1 Travis Shaw 2018 .345 .242
2 Carlos Santana 2018 .352 .231
3 Todd Frazier 2017 .344 .226
4 Jose Bautista 2015 .377 .237
5 Mark Teixeira 2015 .357 .246
6 Carlos Santana 2014 .365 .249
7 Edwin Encarnacion 2013 .370 .247
8 Jose Bautista 2012 .358 .215
9 Mark Teixeira 2011 .341 .239
10 Ian Kinsler 2011 .355 .243
11 Evan Longoria 2011 .355 .239
12 Jose Bautista 2010 .378 .233
13 Carlos Quentin 2010 .342 .241
14 Andruw Jones 2010 .341 .239

While Shaw and Santana are the only players from 2018 on this list, there’s something else that sticks out even more. Of every player above, Shaw is the owner of the second-highest career BABIP, trailing only Evan Longoria. That mean’s Shaw’s .241 batting average was an outrageous outlier. He deserved a much better fate, and even though he was one of Milwaukee’s best hitters, his end-of-the-year stats could’ve — and probably should’ve — been prodigious.

Based on everything I laid out, I believe Shaw is capable of taking a Neil Armstrong-like step forward in 2019. Based on his historically bad luck alone, he should crush pitchers at a high rate. The health of his wrist will be key and he’ll need to do a better job of holding his own against left-handed pitchers, but Shaw will also need the notorious baseball gods back on his side. Just think about it. If Shaw — with his improved eye at the plate — hit .312 on batted balls in 2018 like he did the previous year, he most likely would’ve eclipsed 130 wRC+ and could’ve been a 4-win player. Shaw’s BABIP must hover around .300 in order for him to take the leap that I expect from him. He’s just a few positive bounces away from achieving career-high numbers.

As a treat for making it this far, here’s Shaw’s RW23 projection for the 2019 season. Spoiler: it’s absolutely insane. So insane that while I think Shaw will be excellent, I don’t necessarily believe he’ll be this outstanding. I mean, he’d probably garner MVP votes based on this projection.

PA AB AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO woba K% BB% BABIP SB HR
RW23 603 513 .285 .379 .537 .917 .252 .389 19.0% 12.9% .303 5 34

Shaw is capable of being an All-Star, and I’m riding or dying with that prediction. Care to join me?

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Travis Shaw was snubbed

Travis Shaw didn’t make the National League All-Star team. Instead, Nolan Arenado and Jake Lamb will represent the NL as its chosen third basemen, and that’s fine. Arenado is second in WAR among the hot corner, and Lamb has been worth over two wins, as well. The fact that Shaw deserves an All-Star nod more than Lamb isn’t why the former was snubbed. Well, it is, but it’s not the argument I’m going to focus on.

On the Final Vote ballot, there are five players you can choose to nab the final spot. Three are third basemen. Guess how many of those are Travis Shaw? Zero. Shaw was shunned so much so that he wasn’t even included on the final ballot that included three of his counterparts. And that, my friends, is absolutely and utterly ridiculous.

Shaw is having a career year and is clearly enjoying his new home in Miller Park. He’s already set a career high in home runs (18) and has been worth 2.5 Wins Above Replacement through 74 games. To make that hit home a little harder, Shaw entered the season with 3 WAR to his name over 210 games. His on-base percentage has ballooned by over 50 points since 2016, all the while proving to people he is capable of stealing bases — he’s 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts. He’s essentially been more valuable in 2017 than he was in his previous two years combined. But those stats alone don’t prove he’s an All-Star. We need some perspective.

Here is that perspective. Below is a table that lists Arenado and Lamb, plus the three other final vote participant third basemen — Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant and Justin Turner.

WAR wRC+ wOBA OBP ISO HR
Travis Shaw 2.5 136 .387 .363 0.269 18
Nolen Arenado 2.8 112 .372 .352 0.245 15
Jake Lamb 2.1 129 .380 .378 0.258 18
Anthony Rendon 3.7 145 .397 .398 0.253 16
Justin Turner 3.9 182 .446 .472 0.185 8
Kris Bryant 2.4 135 .380 .391 0.245 16

How Rendon and Turner didn’t make the All-Star Game outright is beyond me. Shame on the fans of the Nationals and Dodgers. They are crushing it and deserve major respect.

So, based on the table above, I understand why those two were among the final vote options. Meanwhile, Lamb should be nowhere near the festivities, but that’s a whole other ordeal. But how come Kris Bryant got more love then Shaw when their stats are nearly identical? Is it because Bryant won the MVP last season? Is it because Bryant won the World Series last season? Is it because Bryant is more of a household name? Yes, those are the reasons. Kudos, MLB! I love popularity contests.

And before Cubs fans start piling on me for being biased, let’s look at Shaw’s ranks among third basemen.

NL 3B Rank
WAR 4th
wRC+ 3rd
wOBA 3rd
OBP 8th
ISO 1st
HR T-1

And yet, he’s not considered among the top five third basemen in the National League. Ridiculous.

The Milwaukee Brewers only garnered one All-Star spot, with Corey Knebel earning his much-deserved first ever appearance. But Shaw deserves at least a final-vote chance. The case can also be made for Eric Thames, Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson, but Shaw is the biggest snub of them all.

Who are the Brewers getting in Travis Shaw, Josh Pennington and Mauricio Dubon?

Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns — or The Wizard, as I like to call him — wasted no time making headlines in the Winter Meetings. In just the second day, the Brewers traded away their best reliever (Tyler Thornburg) for an everyday player (Travis Shaw) and two prospects (Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington) and PTBNL or cash considerations.

Now, I’m not going to dive deep into what exactly the Brewers gave up in Thornburg, but just know that he ranked 15th in adjusted ERA and 18th in adjusted FIP among qualified relievers last season. Thornburg is good. Really good, actually. But there were some warning signs that the Brewers were aware of. For example, Thornburg has quite an extensive injury history, so who knows when/if he’ll break down again, and 2016 was really his only season of note. Milwaukee traded him at the most opportune time and got a good haul in return.

Let’s talk about that haul.

Travis Shaw is the known player in this deal and will be the everyday third baseman for the Brewers in 2017. That means Jonathan Villar (3.0 WAR in ’16) will move to second base — where he’ll likely have more success than he did at third — and Scooter Gennett (0.1 WAR) will be forced to battle for playing time, unless he’s ultimately traded.

Shaw is a better defender than he is a hitter, but at 26 years old, there’s still some untapped potential in his bat. Last year, Shaw posted an 87 wRC+ (13 percent below league average), a .310 wOBA and a .306 OBP. His stats were definitely down from his rookie campaign in 2015, but he still managed to post the same WAR (1.5), thanks to improved defense at the hot corner. Shaw is an immediate upgrade over Hernan Perez, although Perez still figures to see at bats versus lefties, as Shaw accumulated a measly 51 wRC+ in limited time against southpaws a year ago. Still, Stearns said Shaw will have the opportunity to improve, and more plate appearances should only help that.

Shaw, along with newly signed Eric Thames, provides a left-handed power bat to a right-handed heavy lineup, and although he should help the Brewers for years to come — he isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021 — he isn’t the most exciting piece of the trade return.

Before we get to the player I like the most, let’s first focus on Josh Pennington. Pennington turned 21 seven months ago and has yet to pitch above Low-A ball. He was drafted in the 29th round in 2014, falling in the draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school. The Brewers, however, believe he’s rebuilt his arm strength, and reports claim he sits in the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball.

Pennington started 13 games in Low-A last season, and racked up a 2.86 ERA and 3.75 FIP. He struck out fewer than eight batters a game and struggled with command (4.29 BB/9), but there’s still a lot to like about this hurler. First and foremost, he’s young and controllable, which is exactly what Stearns has been targeting since becoming the GM. Plus, Pennington just doesn’t have enough experience to be accurately judged yet. His numbers I posted above don’t really mean much without context. His arsenal and ability to hit the high 90s is more telling of his future performance, so at the very least Pennington has a high floor.

Here’s what Stearns had to say about his new pitcher, via Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“He pitched healthy all of last year,” Stearns said. “We’re excited to be able to bring that type of high-upside arm into the system. “It takes a little while sometimes for guys to regain arm strength after Tommy John, and we believe he has.”

Pennington will be a wait-and-see prospect. The Brewers like him, but until he moves up to Single-A, Double-A, etc and starts facing stiffer competition, he’s little more than a lottery ticket that could pay huge dividends.

The third player the Brewers received from Boston is 22-year-old shortstop Mauricio Dubon. Dubon, in my opinion, makes this a home run trade for Milwaukee, as I think he can be an above-average hitter and fielder in the major leagues. He’s already proven he can hit in the minors, and he might be just a season or two away from his debut.

Dubon once profiled as a slap hitter, posting high ground-ball rates throughout his time in the minors, yet that changed when he went up to Double-A halfway through the 2016 season. In 269 plate appearances, Dubon registered a 151 wRC+ and got on base 37 percent of the time, and he showed some pop as well, with six home runs and a plethora of extra-base hits. Now, he won’t be a power hitter in the majors, but his contact ability is extremely encouraging, and that alone could make him an everyday player.

Because the Brewers already have stud defensive shortstop Orlando Arcia, they plan to use Dubon’s versatility at multiple infield positions in the minors, but according to Stearns, for at least this upcoming season, he’ll stick at shortstop.

The Red Sox got a top reliever in Thornburg, and the Brewers added more exciting prospects to an already stacked bunch. Boston gave up a lot, but with the news trickling in that they signed Chris Sale, it’s clear they’re going for it all in 2017. As for Milwaukee, Shaw will be an instant contributor, Pennington is somewhat of an unknown and Dubon could be the far-and-away best player in this trade.

The Wizard strikes again.