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Bryan Shaw is not your enemy

Sure, his 2022 season was awful and he was overused, but he’s still a Cleveland legend for what he did in the mid-2010’s

Seattle Mariners v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Friends, lay down your arms. The battle is over, the war is won. Bryan Shaw is no longer a member of the 2022 Cleveland Guardians. The man who owns a 5.40 ERA in an inexplicably high number of innings can no longer hurt you. He will not be pitching for the Guardians in October, and they are probably better off for it.

If you somehow hadn’t heard, Bryan Shaw’s long-overdue removal came on Saturday, when he was DFA’d to make room for rookie catcher Bo Naylor’s spot on the 40-man roster. Shaw was brought back this season on a one-year deal following a surprisingly effective 2021 campaign in Cleveland. He spent three years away from Cleveland from 2018 to 2020 and was an absolute train wreck in one of the worst pitching parks (Colorado) and one of the best (Seattle). Needless to say, bringing him back for not one, but two more years raised some eyebrows.

It’s true that Shaw was terrible this year, his ERA is among the highest in the league for relievers, let alone those who threw 58 or more innings. It’s rarified air to get to keep taking the mound in clutch situations when you can hardly get a batter out to save your life. But that’s over now. We’re done watching Straw struggle to get an arm with 700+ innings of relief pitching fired up for that one last pitch.

I’m not here to defend the ire that Shaw drew this season — it’s all warranted. He was bad, his manager was bad for using him so often, and the team is better now that he’s gone. I’m just here to say that this is a blip in an otherwise pretty solid career, at least in a Cleveland uniform. As he rides into the sunset (well, let’s be honest, he’s going to find somewhere to pitch next year) it’s time to go back to appreciating what Bryan Shaw did for Cleveland baseball in the mid-2010s.

Shaw had an unending wave of hate this year, but it’s hardly the first time. There was an uproar every time he had a bad outing in 2015, despite finishing with a 2.95 ERA. Fans still decry Shaw as the loser of the 2016 World Series, despite the near-flawless 1.2 innings he put up in a 1-0 Game 3 win. Despite the three strikeouts he had in 1.1 scoreless innings in a narrow Game 5 loss. Despite the mountain of work that he put in to earn his manager’s trust, and more importantly, keep the rest of the bullpen fresh down the stretch that season — and really, in most seasons he pitched in Cleveland.

From 2013 to 2017, Shaw never finished with an ERA over 3.52, and he never pitched fewer than 64 innings. No reliever threw more than his 358.2 innings over that span (teammate Cody Allen was close at 344.2), and relatively few can boast an ERA lower than his 3.11. Even last year, which happened to be the first losing season of both Shaw’s and Terry Francona’s Cleveland tenure, he pitched a career-high 77.1 innings with a respectable 3.49 ERA. By all means, the disastrous 2022 season was not the norm for Shaw’s time in Cleveland.

None of this is to say that Shaw was flawless. His walk rate has always been a little worrying (it peaked at 11.4% last year), and he has definitely had his fair share of collapses on the mound.

Here’s a different way to look at things, sticking to that 2013-2017 timeframe. Going by +WPA — a cumulative stat that measures the positive impact of each Shaw outing, plate appearance by plate appearance — Shaw was 21st out of a 274 qualified relievers with +34.16 positive win probability added. But looking at -WPA — I think you can guess what that one is — he has the 15th worst at -31.12 negative win probability added. In other words, judging what Shaw did in the full context of each at-bat, he comes out to be about an average reliever. A lot of really great moments, a lot of really bad ones. The nature of relievers and our perception of them leads to only focusing on the bad, however, and ignoring all the good.

For what it’s worth, Cody Allen — who is generally accepted to be an all-time Cleveland great reliever — also had a bad -WPA of -34.75, the sixth worst in that five-year span. The difference, I think, is that Allen frequently had the benefit of coming in for the ninth inning with the bases empty. He could allow a walk or hit here or there and be fine. Shaw, meanwhile, spent the majority of his career as the garbage man, cleaning up when some innings were needed, when things were already lost, or when there were already runners on base with no margin for error. Every hit or walk was devastating, while every clean inning was just what he was supposed to do.

Bryan Shaw is not going into any Hall of Fame anytime soon. At best, he’s probably going to be a trivia answer about innings pitched. There is nothing particular that stands out about his career other than how much he was willing to put in the work. Everyone is going to look back and remember the Cody Allens and Emmanuel Clases of the world. But anyone who watched Shaw pitch in real time are the only ones who will have any reason to remember him. There’s something special about that.

He’s a true workhorse of some great Cleveland teams, and will forever be their lovable maniac pitcher with the best/worst tattoo of all time.

So long for now, you big weirdo.