clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Everyone needs to be talking more about Travis Shaw

Not only has Shaw been carrying the Brewers offense in the absence of Ryan Braun, but he’s been one of the best-hitting third basemen in baseball

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

This year's Brewers have gotten contributions from everyone up and down the lineup, whether it's Domingo Santana coming into his own, the unexpected (by most) production of Eric Sogard and Manny Pina, or Keon Broxton's recent home run binge.

When someone different is providing the key at-bat every day, it can be easy to lose sight of those who have been consistently very good.

I'm here to remind you that Travis Shaw has been really, really good so far in 2017.

I know, that's truly some groundbreaking #analysis. Anyone could look at his .289/.345/.544 line, his 15 home runs and 20 doubles, and say, "hey, he's been impressive."

But here's the thing -- Travis Shaw has been one of the best-hitting third basemen in all of baseball this year.

Shaw is currently carrying a wOBA of .370, tied with Nolan Arenado for 6th among all third basemen. That mark trails only Jake Lamb (.379), Kris Bryant (.382), Miguel Sano (.388), Anthony Rendon (.391) and Jose Ramirez (.396). In terms of wRC+, his mark of 124 means he's been 24% better than the average player. That also ranks 7th among MLB hitters who play third, just behind Jedd Gyorko and Lamb (128) and trailing the usual suspects of Bryant (135), Rendon (140), Sano (142) and Ramirez (148).

Those of us who watch the Brewers every day know how big he's been in key moments this year, often swinging the odds in the Brewers' favor. To this point, Shaw has a Win Probability Added of 1.20, which puts him in 5th place among third basemen behind Sano (1.53), Mike Moustakas (1.58), Lamb (1.98) and Arenado (2.49). Rendon (0.54) and Bryant (0.43) trail Shaw by a significant margin here.

It’s worth mentioning that Shaw is doing all of this while going through what has to be an immensely stressful situation off the field. Shaw and his wife welcomed their first child, a daughter named Ryann, into the world in early June. Ryann was born with a severe heart condition and had to undergo a pair of open-heart surgeries within her first few days of life. Shaw left the team to be with his family and was placed on the family medical emergency list shortly after returning from paternity leave. Shaw told reporters returning to baseball helped put his mind at ease during a tough couple of weeks.

So why aren't more people talking about him as a potential All-Star? As we've mentioned before, sheer numbers is probably part of it. We're seeing a bit of a Young Third Baseman renaissance right now, and an All-Star team can't effectively carry five third basemen, even when more than 30 players are named for each league. But there's another potential reason for the lack of attention -- he's done something similar to this before and ultimately fell off.

Last year, Shaw broke onto the scene with a hot first couple of months for the Red Sox. By the All-Star break, though, he had already started to fall off. Heading into June 2016, Shaw was hitting .292/.358/.508 with a .369 wOBA and a 128 wRC+. By the break, those numbers fell to .269/.332/.456, .334 and 104. In the second half, when his playing time evaporated thanks to the acquisition of Aaron Hill, he cratered with a .194/.259/.360 line, .268 wOBA and 59 wRC+. He was so bad, some were questioning whether he was even a major league caliber hitter.

It'd be easy as a Brewers fan to look at that and worry something similar might happen this year, but there are a few things that suggest this season is something different.

For one, he's greatly improved his plate discipline over last season. In 2016, Shaw struck out in a quarter of his plate appearances, swinging at nearly 1/3 of pitches he saw outside of the strike zone. This year, he's cut the K% down to 20.6% and is only chasing 27.6% of pitches out of the zone. In fact, he's actually swinging less overall this year, cutting his Swing% down from 48% to 44%, and his Swinging Strike% from 10.7% to 7.9%. The more selective approach is leading to more contact (77.6% to 82%) overall.

He's also hitting the ball harder than he ever has, giving some hope that his higher BABIP is not just all luck. Last year, he hit the ball hard 33% of the time when he put the ball into play. This year, that's up to 37.1%.

When the Brewers traded for Shaw this past winter, he figured to be another in a long list of solid-if-unspectacular stopgaps at third base. Instead, he's turned into a viable threat in the middle of one of the best offenses in the National League, helping carry the offense in the absence of Ryan Braun and the struggles of Eric Thames.

Even better -- he's not even arbitration eligible until 2019 and the Brewers have his rights through 2021. If he maintains this pace through the rest of the season, the national attention will eventually come and the Brewers could find themselves with a new cornerstone at the hot corner.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs