Could Shaw follow in David Hernandez's footsteps as Arizona's next young relief workhorse?
Name: Bryan Shaw
Age on Opening Day: 23
Salary: $414,000 (pro-rated portion)
2011 stats (MLB): 33 games, 28.1 IP, 2.54 ERA, 24:8 K:BB
2010 stats (Double-A Mobile): 33 games (13 GS), 101.1 IP, 4.26 ERA, 75:43 K:BB
In 2010, the Arizona bullpen was a disaster. What's that? Tell you something that's new? If you insist...
Much of the credit for Arizona's bullpen renaissance in 2011 has been given to GM Kevin Towers and three of his key acquisitions - J.J. Putz, David Hernandez, and Joe Paterson - and rightfully so. However, I'd like to take a brief moment from handing out the deserved praise to the current regime and take a look back, giving some appreciation to former D-backs scouting director Tom Allison. Thankfully, Allison hasn't been completely forgotten - I'm sure some remember Nick Piecoro's article on Allison from last October.
Still, one could argue that the impact of a great scouting director is nearly as significant for a franchise as the value of a great GM. After all, a GM can only make decisions in a free-market system, hoping to squeeze small margins of extra value out of any given move. A scouting director and his staff are given the luxury of working in a highly-controlled system in which costs are deflated by the league, and thus have the potential for values to vastly exceed costs on a regular basis. Allison drafted and signed several key pieces of Arizona's 2011 campaign and future, including seven players who debuted in the majors in 2011: Paul Goldschmidt, Wade Miley, Collin Cowgill, Josh Collmenter, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, and, of course, Bryan Shaw.
Where am I going with this? Well, as incredible of an addition as Putz was, he turns 35 years old later this month and is only under team control for two more years. As incredible of an addition as Hernandez was, he cost the team a third baseman that, despite a plethora of flaws, just hit 37 home runs in the AL East last year. Shaw? The young power right-hander cost the team a signing bonus of $533,000 as a second-round pick (73rd overall) in 2008, according to Baseball Prospectus' Cot's Baseball Contracts. With 28.1 big-league innings under his belt and a 2.54 ERA - worth half of a win above replacement level according to rWAR - and at least two years of minimum salary control remaining, Shaw is likely to provide the most value over his salary of the three of them. When reflecting on what promises to be a phenomenal relief corps in 2012, don't leave Allison's name out of the credits.
Going into 2011, though, Shaw was relatively unheralded as a prospect. He's always had plenty of arm strength, hitting as high as 95 miles per hour in the minors, but was completely left off John Sickels' 2011 D-backs top-20 list, and that isn't at all a knock on Sickels. After all, Shaw's 2010 season in the minors was relatively underwhelming, with the right-hander posting just a 4.26 ERA in 101.1 innings with Double-A Mobile, starting 13 games and working another 20 games of relief. The fact that he allowed just four home runs all season with the BayBears in 2010 was certainly impressive, but his 75:43 K:BB ratio was not. In spite of his arm strength and ability to keep the ball in the park, Shaw didn't seem to possess much in the ways of command or secondary offerings.
Seeing these weaknesses, Arizona moved him full-time to relief in 2011, and something clicked. Working mostly with a cutter that toned down his max velocity in favor of wicked movement in on left-handed hitters, Shaw utterly abused Double-A, with a 0.87 ERA in 20.2 innings back with the BayBears before moving up to Triple-A Reno. Things didn't go as well at Triple-A, but he nonetheless got the call to the big leagues in June, debuting with Arizona against Florida, walking two but working a scoreless inning. Shaw was roughed up for two earned runs and no batters retired three days later against the Marlins, but allowed just those two earned runs in his first big-league stint - spanning five appearances and 4.1 innings - before being sent back to Reno near the end of June.
Less than one month later, though, Shaw was back in Arizona and there to stay, dominating down the stretch for the D-backs. From his return to the majors on July 20 through the end of the regular season, Shaw made 28 appearances for Arizona, working 24 innings and surrendering just six earned runs, good for a 2.25 ERA. Shaw struck out 20 in that span, walking just five and allowing a pair of home runs. Opposing hitters managed to reach base reasonably-well against Shaw in this span, with a .275 batting average and .340 on-base percentage. However, where Shaw shined was his ability to keep the ball on the ground - he had a 60.0% GB-Rate in the big-leagues in 2011 - and limiting opposing hitters' power numbers: in that 28-game span, opposing hitters had a mere .099 ISO against Shaw, meaning that Shaw limited the average hitter he faced to just two points of ISO over the power capacity of 2011 Emilio Bonifacio (.097 ISO).
What of the future, though? Personally, from watching how much absurd movement he's been able to get on that low-90's cutter, I think Shaw is destined for greatness in relief. I'm not alone, either, as Shaw was included in Sickels' 2012 D-backs top-20 list (despite surpassing the rookie minimum for days on a 25-man roster) with the following synopsis:
That's a pretty nasty cutter he's developed, and he always had the arm strength to succeed if the control was there. I think he could close eventually.
Sadly, MLB.com doesn't have any video highlights of Shaw's cutter, but there are a pair of Shaw clips, so let's take a glimpse at his stuff. First, a look at a rare four-seam fastball, showing off his peak velocity:
Eventually, Shaw will probably need to eventually choose one between his curveball and slider for further refinement to become a truly elite reliever. My money is on whichever one he used (looks like the slider to me) to collect three straight strikeouts in the NLDS Game 5 video below:
Heading into 2012, though, it appears that Shaw's role in the Arizona bullpen is likely to be reduced to the fifth right-hander out of the 'pen, given the acquisition of Takashi Saito and the returns of Putz, Hernandez, and Brad Ziegler. However, given the age and health concerns of Saito and Putz, the heavy workload of Hernandez in 2011, and Ziegler's massive platoon splits, there should be plenty of full-inning work for Shaw in a loaded Arizona bullpen, and a larger role on the horizon in 2013 if he continues to perform the way he did in 2011.
Given that fans basically had no expectations for Shaw going into 2011 - heck, most fans couldn't be faulted for not having heard of him - Shaw's impressive performance down the stretch and in the post-season is all the more impressive. Final grade from me is a solid B+.