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Bryan Shaw was valuable to Indians, but not irreplaceable

The ironman reliever played a key role over the last five years. But the Indians must, and can, move on.

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians more than likely cannot, will not be able to afford Bryan Shaw this winter.

Even if they could, with the amount of money they have tied up in the relief corps — in particular Andrew Miller and now Cody Allen entering his second year of arbitration — it makes no real fiscal sense. It's money better spent on, say, Carlos Santana. And the free agent market has a way of making things more unaffordable for all but slugging, slow-footed 1B/DH types. Bryan Shaw is going to get paid — he's been durable, effective, and has been a great scapegoat for fans. That has its own value. The Indians will miss him; he was a valuable asset. But they can replace him.

Here's the thing about pitchers, whether they're used like Shaw or not. They're durable right up until they aren't. He's thrown more than anyone out of the bullpen over the last five years, and led either baseball or at least the American League in appearances in three of the last four. He's probably not made of iron, so at some point he's likely to struggle and ultimately stop having any positive impact. It's the story of pitching. Heck, we saw that just this year as his slider started to flatten out in mid-season. He was just saved by a big uptick in velocity. Mariano Rivera is the exception, not the rule. I'm sure Shaw will be very good for several more years, but it's not as though he was a unicorn. He is a very good pitcher. The Indians have plenty of those still.

Just off the top of my head, this summer we saw the emergence of Nick Goody and Tyler Olson. Despite rarely breaking 92, Goody struck out 32.8 percent of batters, the same rate as Cody Allen. He follows the same track as Andrew Miller by throwing about equal parts fastball and slider (actually 51.6 percent to 46.3 in favor of the four-seam) and despite not having the same stuff, it seems to work. To be honest I expected the other shoe to drop for like a month and a half, but Goody kept on being good.

Same thing with Olson, both in the success and the shoe-dropping. Not allowing a run and throwing barely 90 will make people wonder at the efficacy of what's going on, but Olson had a comfortably low FIP (2.41), a strikeout ratee to match Shaw's 23.4 percent and hada bare 9.6 percent Hard Hit Ball rate to go with a 52.9 percent ground ball rate. The specter of sample size surely looms, since it was only 20 innings, but there's seemingly something there with that octopus-armed young man. Aside from them, there's young guys on the farm like Julian Merryweather and his mid-to high 90's fastball rising fast through the ranks, or Ryan Merritt could replicate the Olson development, who knows. The Indians are great at pitcher development. One has to be able to hang their hat on that a little bit.

Also, a part of me wonders if a pitcher like Goody is actually more effective than a pitcher like Shaw these days, who has one absolutely savage pitch he relies on. It's probably foolish to really think that, because a 97 mph cutter that has that bizarre late movement is almost definitely better than a 91 mph fastball with a slider combo. But like I wrote about Andrew Miller this summer, where it's the coin flip nature of his sequencing combined with his filthy stuff, Goody doesn't give much of any hint as to what he's throwing at any given pitch. As this chart demonstrates, unless he's deep in a hole with no strikes recorded, there's nearly no way of knowing what he'll throw. As long as he can keep separation on his fastball and slider, that's key. And in this age of better and better fastball-hunters, this could be a more optimal approach. Of course velocity is always king. The human body can only react so fast to a pitch. But if you know what that pitch is going to be nearly 90 percent of the time in Shaw's case, and it's not a magic man like Mariano Rivera up there, that makes life a little easier. Between Goody's constant flipping of a coin and the angle-changing attack of Olson, making hitters think could outmatch pure stuff. Jut a thought.

It's going to take multiple people to fill the hole Shaw is going to leave. Goody and Olson can pick up a good part of that slack. If you figure Goody takes another 10 or 15 innings and Olson ups his work to something near 50ish and can maintain his effectiveness against both lefties and righties, that still leaves a 40 inning hole that needs filling. The Indians will pluck some name from the free agent bargain bin, and maybe they'll strike gold with another Rzcepcynski or Otero or Manship for a year. That's what Shaw always was, an arm you could rely on throughout the season, but he kept doing it year in and year out. It's a hard thing to find. Even if he's not lights out all the time, Shaw's reliability will be sorely missed. Luckily for the Indians, the fickle roulette wheel that is the bullpen will replicate his ups and his downs. We just don't know what it will look like yet.