Appreciating Travis Shaw

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MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at Miller Park on September 8, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Travis Shaw was a major contributor for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. The third baseman belted 31 home runs and finished with a solid .862 OPS and 120 wRC+ in his first season in Milwaukee. Because of this, he was voted the team MVP for the 2017 season. This year, thanks to excellent seasons from Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, and Lorenzo Cain, Shaw isn’t getting the same amount of attention that he did last season. However, he’s continued to give the Brewers quality production.

Appreciating Travis Shaw

Shaw is having another nice season, currently sitting on 28 homers, a .819 OPS, and a 117 wRC+. Those numbers are a tick below last year’s, but there’s evidence that Shaw has actually improved from last year. Shaw’s hard contact rate of 38.6% is a career-best and is nearly identical to what it was last season. Despite this, Shaw is carrying a BABIP of .241, which is down dramatically from last year’s .312 and his career mark of .287.

According to Statcast metrics, Shaw should basically be repeating his 2017 numbers. He slugged .513 last year with a .361 wOBA. This year, his expected slugging (xSLG) is at .503 and his xWOBA is at .366. Both of these numbers are incredibly close to last year’s production. Shaw’s plate discipline has also improved. His walk rate is up to 12.7%, and his strikeout rate is down to 17.5%. Those are both career bests.

There is only one area in which Shaw has taken a step back this year. After being roughly league-average against left-handed pitching in 2017, he’s struggled to a .584 OPS and 62 wRC+ against southpaws this season. However, Hernan Perez has proven to be a capable platoon partner for Shaw. Perez sports an acceptable .800 OPS and 107 wRC+ against lefties this year.

On the flip side, Shaw has absolutely raked against right-handed pitching. He has a .892 OPS and 134 wRC+ despite his poor batted ball luck. Additionally, 27 of Shaw’s 28 long balls have come against right-handers. He has remained a force in the lineup when he has the platoon advantage.

Shaw has also provided some versatility in the field. After coming up through the minor leagues as a first baseman, Shaw converted to third base in 2016. He has worked himself into a solid defender at the position, accruing 23 Defensive Runs Saved at the position, including nine this year. After the acquisition of Mike Moustakas, Shaw shifted to second base, a position he had never played in his life. His range at the position is understandably poor, but he’s been able to capably field anything he can get to. This season, Shaw has played 106 games at third base, 25 at second base, and 6 at first base. His newfound flexibility gives Craig Counsell more options when filling out the lineup card.

The Brewers currently hold the first Wild Card spot, and Shaw has been playing a role in it. He has continued his success from last season, especially against right-handed pitching. He has made great strides with his approach at the plate. Additionally, Shaw has provided some defensive versatility, allowing the Brewers to add an impact bat in Moustakas. He may not get much recognition, but Travis Shaw has quietly remained one of the team’s most valuable players.

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