One of the goals that David Stearns set out to accomplish this winter was to create a more balanced lineup for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017. His first move was to cut bait with the right-handed hitting Chris Carter and sign Eric Thames, the left-handed masher who slugged 124 home runs over the past three seasons in Korea, to play first base. The club’s preference to play Jonathan Villar at second base and Hernan Perez in a utility role created an opening at third base, which Slingin’ Stearns filled by acquiring Travis Shaw from the Red Sox as a part of the package for reliever Tyler Thornburg.
Shaw debuted with Boston in 2015 and has been about an average offensive contributor for his season-and-a-half in the big leagues, slashing .251/.312/.442 in 778 plate appearances for a 97 wRC+. He reached base via free pass at only about a roughly league average rate last season (8.1%) and does have a tendency to punch out more often than one might like (24.4% for his career); he has, however, demonstrated an intriguing bit of home run pop during his brief time in the major leagues, having already slugged 29 home runs with a .191 ISO in 210 games.
Making this display of power even more impressive is the fact that Shaw had to play his home games at Fenway Park during his initial foray into the big leagues. Though Pesky’s Pole sits just 302 feet away from home plate down the right field line, the fence in Boston quickly becomes much less forgiving to left-handed power hitters. The nook in right center field, which measures 420 feet away from home plate, is where home runs go to either become doubles or find a speedy outfielder’s glove. According to Fangraphs’ park factors, Fenway Park was the third most difficult for a southpaw swinger to hit home runs in from 2012-15, behind only Marlins’ Park and AT&T Park in San Francisco.
As you can see from the above graphic that overlays Fenway Park’s dimension on top of Miller Park, Milwaukee’s home field is much more accommodating to lefties. In fact, only three stadiums - Yankees Stadium, Coors Field in Colorado, and Camden Yards - were more conducive to left-handed home runs from 2012-15 than Miller Park was.
Baseball Savant has a neat tool that allows you to overlay any hitter’s spray chart on top of any ballpark’s dimension, so the above image is Travis Shaw’s 2016 spray chart fitted to Miller Park. Shaw slugged 16 home runs in 145 games last season, but according to the graphic there are some 10-15 additional balls that Shaw put in play last season that would have had a chance to be over the fence in Milwaukee.
Though totals of 13 long balls in 2015 and 16 last year are nothing to sneeze at, the move from Fenway to Miller Park should prove to be a boon for the 26 year old’s power numbers. Shaw makes plenty of hard contact (33.8% last season) and is a fly-ball hitter with a tendency to pull the ball, which should all play very well at his new home stadium. It’s not difficult to see Miller Park’s noted boost to left-handed hitters helping The Mayor of Ding Dong City become an annual 20-25+ home run threat. If that level of offense can be combined with the terrific defense he’s provided thus far at the hot corner, then the Brewers may just have found their long-term third baseman going forward in Travis Shaw.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs