Travis Shaw has without a doubt left his fantasy baseball owners very frustrated five weeks into the 2019 season. Fantasypros had Shaw’s ADP heading into this year at 95, and much of that was for reasons that seemed perfectly reasonable and were largely thanks to his setting.
Shaw was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2016 season and immediately put up strong numbers for the Brew Crew. A patient, powerful approach led to back-to-back seasons of 30-plus home runs and a 120 wRC+ in 2017, followed by a 119 mark last season.
Shaw benefitted from Milwaukee’s strong lineup, posting run and RBI totals between 70 and 101 both seasons. Few saw a reason not to expect a repeat coming into 2019. Also, thanks to the Brewers, Shaw gained second base eligibility in 2018, which obviously added to his value for this season.
So how have things gone so far? Well, Shaw has four home runs and 18 R/RBI, but that’s where the positives end. You could add Shaw’s batting average to his OPS just to be generous and it would still be behind his actual OPS so far in 2019—the real one that’s just on-base plus slugging.
However, most of Shaw’s batted ball data looks close to what he’s achieved in eihter of the last two years.
So when he makes contact, it’s mostly close to the same quality of contact that we saw from Shaw the last two seasons. The issue appears to be with how often Shaw is making that contact. The infielder is striking out at an eye-popping 30.8% rate so far this season.
So far, his swing percentage is within .5% of what it was in 2017 and 2018, so he’s not being more aggressive, and he’s actually chasing pitches outside the strike zone less this year than he did before. Still, Shaw’s swinging-strike rate is the highest it has been in his career at 14.2%.
The only theory I’m left with is one that my PL colleague and manager Ben Palmer posited on Twitter a few days ago. Something is leading Shaw to make less and less contact despite his approach being largely unchanged and, arguably, even improved.
An injury making it harder for him to get to pitches is one of the only sensible explanations I can think of. Shaw missed some time earlier this month after being hit on the hand by a pitch, but he has played in all but two of the Brewers’ games so far. So if he is hurt, he and the team isn’t acknowledging it, or may not be aware of it.
Injuries, obviously, are temporary, so there is hope that Shaw turns it around this season, but at least based on what is publicly available, there is no injury being addressed. There is also a possibility that he will regress to the mean and will post numbers more similar to his 2018 and 2019 campaigns, but we simply don’t know at this point. I wish I could tell you that the right thing is definitely to hold or drop him, but it’s going to depend on your team and situation.
Shaw can be good enough that my gut says the play is to hold him and wait it out, but a desperate owner could be forgiven for trying to move on.
Graphic by Nathan Mills (@NathanMillsPL on Twitter)