In the top of the ninth inning last night, the Cleveland Indians rallied from a three run deficit. The offense strung together productive hits against Angels closer Huston Street, tying the game on a single slapped to right field by Tyler Naquin. The Indians sent Bryan Shaw to the mound to protect the 3-3 tie in the bottom of the ninth.
How did it work out?
Before we even begin to dissect the decision Terry Francona made to send Shaw into the game, I'd like to tease apart the pitching performance. After, we can put it into the context of the rest of his season. All pitch data used in this article is courtesy of Brooks Baseball.
First at-bat: Brendan Ryan, single.
Ryan entered the game as a defensive substitution in the top of the eighth inning. Throughout his career he's served as a journeyman in the "have glove, will travel" vein. At the age of 34, teams still mine productive baseball from him, although it is not usually at the plate. This is Ryan's first hit of the season, and he used only one swing.
Each pitch is a cutter at 93-95 except for the third, which is a slider at 82.
The actual pitch that Ryan drives for a hit isn't the issue. It's pitches four and five, and whatever happens in between them. Shaw tries to catch Ryan with a cutter on the outside corner, a pitch that is often a groundball out or a swing and a miss when it tails off the plate if contact is made at all. Gomes sets up, but Shaw misses the mark by almost a foot. He collects himself, stares back in, and waits for the sign.
Shaw appears to shake off a call, perhaps multiple times. Is Gomes calling for the change-up, which Shaw has thrown only twice this season? Is this a bit of gamesmanship to try and break up Ryan's focus and rhythm at the plate? I can't say for sure, but the result is terrible: anyone who spends more than five years in the majors and isn't named Vlad Guerrero is going to pass on a 2-2 cutter at eye level.
Shaw comes back with the cutter down, but over the heart of the plate. Like anyone who spends more than five years in the majors and isn't facing Mariano Rivera, Ryan puts decent wood on it, and it finds a gap in the Indians defense.
Second at-bat: Jett Bandy, successful sacrifice bunt
Jett Bandy may be the catcher of the future for the Angels organization, driven primarily by his excellent defensive makeup. There is no need to look at the pitches here. Bandy lays down a sacrifice bunt, which is statistically a poor call by Mike Scioscia. The Angels need one run here, and moving someone from first to second lowers the chance of scoring a run from 41.6% to 39.7%, based on numbers from 2010-2015. Again, this isn't quite the problem, as the Indians had a chance to turn the double play on this, lowering the Angel's chances all the way down to 6.7%.
Despite his name sounding like an ultrasonic add-on to the Iron Man suit, Jett Bandy is not a fast man. The best report I've read is that he has "decent speed for a catcher". This is a very turnable double play. Shaw elects to go to first base for the out instead of planting and tossing to Lindor, who is already waiting at second base, and is really quite good at catching and throwing baseballs on target.
Third at-bat: Gregorio Petit, walk
Petit provides value to a ball club with his excellent ability to fill up a roster spot at the league minimum salary. When necessary he can put on a uniform and field up the middle. He did not play professional baseball from 2010-2013.
After the first slider, each pitch is a cutter of steadily decreasing velocity, from 95 to 92.
Shaw never really threatens to during this at bat, and Petit never swings. Again, Shaw appears to miss his targets on the outside portion of the plate. After the third ball, I wonder if the call from the dugout isn't just to throw another pitch no one but Vlad would consider swinging at; walk him, and set up the chance to turn the double play to end the inning. It occurs to me that Shaw might be better served by challenging the number nine hitter instead of nibbling around the edges. If you throw great pitches and the number nine guy beats you, so be it. Instead, the Angels roll over to the top of the order.
Final at-bat: Yunel Escobar, walk-off single
Yunel Escobar is a ten year veteran. He has played for five different teams in his career and can no longer through the baseball to first base. He leads the American league in errors.
Each pitch is a cutter at either 93-94 except for the last fateful slider.
After two pitches that aren't particularly near the strike zone, Shaw jams Escobar a couple of times to induce foul tips. He comes back with a slider at the knees. This is not a bad pitch. It is not perfect, but this is a difficult pitch to hit, and it is one that is rarely hit well. Escobar slaps at the pitch and breaks his bat in the process, but the ball lands on the grass in no-man's land for the second time on the night against the Indians. Ryan comes around third and scores, and the Indians lose on yet another walk-off this season. I am not going to look up how many times that has happened because it is starting to become too painful.
Should Shaw have entered the game?
Let's consider Shaw's performance on the season. He has allowed fourteen runs on the year. Nine of those came in two games: a five-run implosion and blown save against the White Sox and a four-run meltdown against the Mets (The Indians won this game). Since then, he's been a fairly dependable reliever with an unusual ability to make close games much more interesting than they need to be. If you don't believe me when I say that he's fairly dependable, maybe you prefer Jordan Bastian:
Shaw has given up a run in each of last 2 outings, following 23-game stretch with 1.35 ERA, .200 opp. average. Tough loss tonight for CLE.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) June 12, 2016
Shaw did not pitch well last night. I don't think a reasonable argument can be made to the contrary. I do think that his bad games have come at the worst possible times, with last night's striking me as the most heartbreaking. A rookie came up big in the clutch to put the game back within reach, and Shaw's performance batted it away like a beachball. Which, fittingly, some of his pitches appeared to be.
The point is, that is not the normal Bryan Shaw. Should Francona reach for him in situations like this moving forward? I'm not sure; that's starting to get into the nebulous mental territory of baseball. Could he use a break from situations where failure makes him look like a complete goat? Absolutely, but as the setup man that is his role, and most baseball commentators will mumble things about creatures of habit and getting into a groove and players losing their entire identity when they do something slightly different. I don't know enough to say if that will happen.
For Shaw's sake, he might be better suited as the sixth or seventh inning guy for a little while. There are other options in the Indians bullpen, and a brief stint in another role need not be a permanent demotion, as Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco have proven. He can only stumble like this in high-leverage situations before he's stuck with an unfair and unsavory label: Guy Who Completely Blows Games.