The flurry of transactions as clubs look to stabilize their 30-man rosters before Opening Day has begun, which means perfectly
useful cromulent pulse-having relievers have been turned out on the metaphorical MLB streets. One such pulse-haver is Bryan Shaw, formerly of the Rockies and now, if Jon Heyman is to be believed, your Seattle Mariner:
Hear Bryan Shaw will be going to the Mariners after Rockies let him go— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 20, 2020
While remembering it’s entirely possible that Heyman typed “Mariners” when he meant to type “Marlins” or maybe “Hiroshima Toyo Carp,” it can be said with certainty that Shaw is no longer a Rockie (Rocky? This always bedevils me). Colorado also cut loose fellow veteran reliever Jake McGee, who each signed 3-year, $27M dollar deals with the club prior to the 2018 season. Both Shaw and McGee struggled last year for a Colorado bullpen that ranked 29th in the majors. The Rockies have been transparent regarding their desire to give some of their young up-and-coming bullpen arms reps—players like Yency Almonte, Tyler Kinley, Phillip Diehl, and our very own Old Friend James Pazos—in the hopes of turning that dismal performance around.
Which is what makes this transaction curious for the Mariners, who have their own collection of up-and-coming bullpen arms, as well as their own aged reliever to sop up late innings in Hirano. It’s difficult to project what the Mariners might see in the 32-year-old Shaw unless they think it’s a case of extreme COORS!ing, as the formerly steady Shaw has been nightmarish beneath the Purple Row. His average exit velocity allowed of 90 mph is in the bottom 10% of the league, which could be fine except his ground ball percentage has dipped to below 50% while in Colorado, as well. And while Shaw didn’t struggle as mightily with allowing barrels in 2019, in 2018 he had a double-digit barrel rate, bottom 4% in the league. That drop in barrel % in 2019 also coincided with a drop in strikeout percentage, dipping below 20%, while a relatively high walk rate stayed put.
As our Jake Mailhot notes, as a cutter-slider-heavy pitcher, Shaw would be especially negatively influenced by his breaking balls changing shape, which makes perfect sense until you look at his home/road splits and note that while Shaw was rough at Coors, his numbers are even more brutal outside of it, at least in 2019 (2018 has similarly bad numbers, but more evenly distributed). That, combined with a significant loss of velocity on the cutter, does not forecast happy times ahead, regardless of park.
However, there is an area in which Shaw is exceptional: the movement on his slider, which has extreme horizontal break compared to the rest of the league. The pitch sweeps in on righties, leading to elevated strikeout rates against them, and yet, per Statcast, in 2019 Shaw threw the slider under 10% of the time, relying instead mostly on his cutter. That might be related to some problems he had dating back to his time in Cleveland with the slider, or it might be related to a few too many outcomes like this:
#Rockies Bryan Shaw on home run pitch: "A really bad slider."— Patrick Saunders (@psaundersdp) August 31, 2018
But the Mariners are known for taking broken relievers and shining them up new and fresh, and obviously someone in the analytics department or perhaps pitching mechanics guru Brian DeLunas sees something fixable in the pitch. A simple mechanical change followed by a change to his pitch mix, as the Mariners have done with other castoff relievers, might trigger better results. Looking at 2019, they can’t get much worse.
One final note—the Rockies are on the hook for Shaw’s prorated salary. If the Mariners do indeed sign Shaw—and remember, so far only Jon Heyman, who once did this in regards to Bryan Shaw, is reporting that—they’ll only need to give him the minimum prorated salary, making this an inexpensive gamble. (There is a pro-rated $9M vesting option in Shaw’s 2021 contract based on 2020 appearances but that no longer applies after his release). Meanwhile, the Mariners’ next set of bullpen arms can avoid some big-league mileage in a lost season. And the #QuestForKumar draws ever nearer.