We started yesterday with Jackie Bradley Jr. It seems appropriate to continue with Travis Shaw. The two came into the season in awfully similar places. Both had come up together partway through 2016. Both had gone on tears to help make the Red Sox exciting to watch again even if they were just playing out the string in a lost season. And each fell off late, leaving them giant question marks that could break either way.
Yesterday, we covered how Bradley succeeded in making good on the promise he showed in 2015. His best times were simply unreal, and his average times well above those of the league’s. His bad stretches were bad, but so are everyone else’s.
Travis Shaw did not accomplish this.
Oh, he crushed the ball to start. Earlier than Bradley, even. His peak came on May 17th when, 160 plate appearances into the season, he was hitting .329/.400/.573 and very much expected to make his way into the All-Star game.
By the end of the month, his OPS had dropped over 100 points. By the end of June, it had fallen another 85. He was not an All-Star. The last two months saw him hit to a .570 OPS and lose his starting role. Somewhere along the line, he lost the ability to distinguish fastballs and sliders. Perhaps he was just guessing right in the past, but he went from a solid slider hitter in the first half to one of the game’s worst in the second half, and it dragged his ability to catch up to fastballs down with it. By season’s end, if it wasn’t a changeup, Shaw couldn’t touch it.
The thing with Shaw is that there’s clearly potential there. Even during his bad months, when he would catch hold of a ball, he would crush it to the damn moon. In a game where power is increasingly rare and thus valuable, Shaw brings that tool to the table in spades. It’s hard to just let that go. If they can get him right against sliders, then there’s a real ballplayer in there, especially given how surprisingly solid he was at the hot corner.
The problem is going to be finding the opportunity for those fixes to be made. The Red Sox are not a rebuilding team that can just throw good at bats after bad. Shaw’s full season was actually reasonable enough that the team could absorb that—even the 2013 Red Sox had Will Middlebrooks at third—but you don’t like to plan for mediocrity at any position with the resources the Sox have.
The good news on that front is that the Sox do have the ability to take their time here and see if Shaw pans out. They’re not getting a real trade bounty for him at this point, but they do have two option years left on him, and notably, the Sox are not without options there. Yoan Moncada was clearly not quite ready yet in September. But give him an offseason targeting the issues he now knows he has and maybe a month or two in 2017 and the heir may well be ready to take the throne. The Red Sox probably aren’t going to be on the lookout for a long-term acquisition at third base, particularly since they’ll already be adding one corner IF/DH type to fill whichever of 1B/DH Hanley Ramirez doesn’t play.
That’s likely going to leave them in experimental territory out there for a while. Shaw, Holt, probably even Sandoval. The door will be open for someone to show they deserve to hold onto that spot for a while, at least until Yoan Moncada demands it himself. After that? His only chance is going to be to pull a Bradley, returning to the minors, figuring things out, and maybe finding an opportunity filling in for an injured player to show what he’s learned down the line. We can hope it turns out that way, but given how 2016 went, we probably shouldn’t expect it.