The Mariners’ bullpen has seen better days. Gerson Bautista suffered a flexor strain early on in Summer Camp and is now out indefinitely. Zac Grotz and Seattle’s projected closer, newcomer Yoshihisa Hirano, both arrived to camp late and seem unlikely to head with the team to Houston later this week.
With sights set on breaking camp with 11 relievers on their initial 30-man roster, the Mariners were running out of options to avoid plucking talent from the small group of young arms on their taxi squad. Today, it seems they’ve given themselves some breathing room by adding veteran reliever Bryan Shaw, who was released by the Rockies over the weekend.
It should be noted that this bit of news comes from the infamous Jon “What Is the Plan?” Heyman, who hasn’t been the most accurate in reporting Seattle’s recent transactions as of late, so this should be met with at least some skepticism, especially with no other confirmation of the move out there as of this writing.
Going with the assumption that Heyman is correct in his report, the 32-year-old Shaw is a pretty interesting get for the Mariners. Now entering his ninth MLB season, Shaw was one of the more underrated relievers in the league during his time with Cleveland. Since his move to Colorado prior to the 2018 season, however, he’s been worth -0.4 fWAR with a 5.07 FIP over 126.2 innings pitched.
One would think that Shaw’s struggles could simply be attributed to pitching in Coors Field, but he was bad everywhere the last two seasons. Specifically last year, Shaw posted a 4.20 ERA in Colorado (*insert weed joke here*) and a 6.89 ERA on the road in 40.2 and 31.1 innings, respectively.
While he sports a four-pitch repertoire, Shaw spends most of his time on the mound hammering away at hitters with his cutter. Utilized at a 75.4% clip last year, Shaw’s cutter was tagged for an opponent .333 wOBA and wasn’t very effective in producing outs, putting away hitters 15.9% of the time. That’s just not going to play for a pitch he uses so often.
Everything we’ve gone over thus far doesn’t make Shaw sound all that appealing, I’m sure, but the Mariners typically haven’t aimlessly added relievers under Jerry Dipoto. There is usually an underutilized aspect of a pitcher’s game the Mariners’ scouting department have identified, which has recently yielded successful results for them (see: Austin Adams, Brandon Brennan).
For Shaw, this would seem to be his pair of breaking balls, the slider and curve that he threw a mere combined 17% last year. Shaw ranked 49th amongst all qualified pitchers in slider spin rate, but was a bit unlucky when using the pitch, surrendering a .292 batting average and .542 slugging percentage. His expected stats were much lower in both categories, however, with his xBA coming in at .246 and xSLG at .351. He also notched a 40% whiff rate with the pitch.
After using the curveball on occasion at the beginning of his career, Shaw abandoned the pitch for the majority of his tenure with Cleveland before coming back to it in 2019 (he did throw it a whopping four times in 2018, to be fair). Thrown 7.7% of the time last year, the curve had similar results to that of the slider, getting knocked around for big numbers but ultimately scoring low in the expected stats. Opposing batsmen hit for a .280 average and .600 slugging percentage against the 92 curves Shaw threw, but he generated a 39% whiff rate and his xBA and xSLG came in at the lowly marks of .171 and .222.
Additionally, Shaw’s changeup showed some positive signs. It’s another pitch the veteran has gotten away from over the last few seasons that he came back to last year. Despite the inflation caused by the four hits he allowed on the pitch (two of them being home runs), it was pretty damn good at times, causing hitters to swing and miss 54% of the time.
Getting away from the cutter a bit and taking a more balanced approach to the mound could do wonders for Shaw. The Mariners are getting him for virtual scraps, so it’s no skin off their back if he works out or not.
If he does, they may have an opportunity to flip him towards the end of August for a lottery ticket. Pretty much a no-brainer for them, considering the nature of the bullpen that’s developed over the past couple weeks.