The Blue Jays bringing Travis Shaw back to the AL East, and some adjustments could erase the rather disappointing 2019 season he had
Travis Shaw is returning to the AL East in 2020, with the Blue Jays securing his services for 4 million (up to 4.675 million with incentives). After a down (*horrid*) 2019 season, many wonder what this signing will look like when the season is over. I’m here to (optimistically) say it will be one of the best high-pay-off/ low-risk acquisitions this offseason.
To be clear, I’m not stating the Jays have found Joey Votto 2.0 at 1B, or that there will be a statue in front of Roger’s centre to commemorate Shaw’s AL MVP status and him solely leading the Jays into the Playoffs. What I am saying is, Shaw has 5 seasons as a body of work, and I believe 2019 was an outlier – which can be shown with some digging. I believe Shaw can have a surprise year and has the potential to be a significant contributor on this team of young rising stars.
Shaw, developed by the Red Sox after being drafted in 2011, debuted with two mediocre seasons in 2015 and 2016 (2.8 fWAR combined). Following his postseason debut in 2016, he was sent to the Brewers as part of the Tyler Thornburg deal – which is where he had his real breakout with two 3+ fWAR seasons. Shaw himself attributes his poor 2019 season to some adjustments in his swing – in attempt to gain some offensive consistency.
He stated that he ultimately adjusted his hands and load in his swing, but abandoned these changes in Spring Training when he found it wasn’t translating. However, he felt these habits lingered on throughout the 2019 season and contributed to his woeful production. If this is the case and he is able to revert to his old abilities by returning to his old swing, he may return to productive form.
Let’s address the concerns. Shaw had an abysmal 2019 as his 47 wRC+ and .248 wOBA clearly illustrate. If we look into some of Shaw’s advanced statistics, specifically his K%, we see it absolutely ballooned in 2019 from his career average. Not only was the K% just bad, it was notably tied with Teoscar Hernandez for 14th worst in the league (with min. 250 plate appearances).
If we investigate this high K% and look into some plate discipline metrics, we see that in 2019 his Zone % was less than 1% different than his career average. Therefore, he wasn’t pitched differently – at least not from a ratio of pitches in the zone. However, we do see a drop (7.9%) in his Contact% and saw a significant drop in his contact on pitches outside and inside the zone (7% O-Contact% & 8.9% Z-Contact%, respectively). In addition, his swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) also took a jump from his career average, rising over 3%.
It is concerning that Shaw was swinging more and making less contact –contributing to his increased K%. Further, it is also concerning he was making less contact on pitches in the zone, in addition to decreased contact outside the zone. If it were only the contact outside the zone which was the problem, the K% could be improved by simply working on plate discipline and laying off bad pitches outside the zone. However, with his contact inside the zone also down, he was missing (potentially) hittable pitches – which is less simple to fix and of concern.
|wRC+||47||103 (120 & 119 in 2017/18)|
Now digging more, let’s explore 3 reasons to find optimism in Shaw’s upcoming 2020. 1) Although Shaw’s K% ballooned, it appears Shaw still was able to have plate control and vision as his BB% was above his career average. In fact, it was 25th best in the league (with min 250 PA). 2) Although his contact% was down, what is encouraging is that his ratios of Soft/Med/Hard contact were virtually unchanged from his career norm. 3) Finally, his BABIP was not only a career low – but far below his career average of .280. It is possible that one component of his poor output in 2019 was due to this bad fortune, and it is therefore reasonable to expect somewhat of a return to his career BABIP – resulting in better outcomes. These 3 elements illustrate that his underlying poor performance in 2019 may not be sustained, and are more indicative of an outlier bad year.
|Contact (Soft/Med/Hard)||(18.4%/ 46.1%/ 35.5%)||(19.2%/ 44.9%/ 35.9%)|
I should also mention two other factors which could contribute to a productive upcoming season. First, Travis Shaw in his career at 1B ranks about average according to Defensive Runs Saved. However, his above average DRS fielding metrics at 3rd base (26 Defensive Runs Saved in 5 career seasons) provides ample opportunity to contribute as 3B depth (on days Vladdy Jr. is at DH or scheduled off). Second, his decreased HR/FB ratio in 2019 (10.1% – a drop from his career 15.9% average) should see an improvement by playing 81 games at Rogers Centre (and returning to AL East ballparks).
In a season where playoff contention isn’t an imminent expectation, Travis Shaw isn’t required to be the tipping point in the return to contention. However, I do believe Travis Shaw has the ability to surprise Blue Jay fans this coming season. With the 2nd wild card, if Shaw returns to his previous form – along with a few other ‘ifs’ breaking the right way with this young core –meaningful September baseball could return sooner than expected.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Pete is an avid baseball fan – primarily focusing on the Toronto Blue Jays. Once a timid fan in his adolescence, a 54 home run season won his heart over. He could be heard screaming triumphantly one October evening after an infamous bat flip. Approximately 12 months later, he reacted similarly to the Donaldson Dash. He eagerly awaits the next chapter of October jubilation for his team.