Milwaukee has gladly welcomed Travis Shaw with open arms in 2017, his first season with the Crew. Affectionately nicknamed “The Mayor of Ding Dong City” due to his moonshot home runs, Shaw is an extremely likable player and exudes professionalism on all fronts. So, how exactly did Milwaukee become lucky enough to have his services?
After a promising 2015 rookie campaign, Travis Shaw looked like the Boston Red Sox third baseman of the future. He had hit 13 home runs with an OPS of .813 in just 65 games, putting him on pace for a 30+ home run season had he played the full year.
However, 2016 in Beantown did not bode as well for Shaw. Struggles at the plate pushed him out of favor by the end of the year, and he only garnered two at bats in the postseason for the Sox after amassing 480 over 145 games during the regular season. With his position in the organization marred by uncertainty following his disappointing performance at the plate (.242/.306/.421), Shaw became expendable.
This expendability led to him becoming the centerpiece of the Brewers’ return in dealing stud reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox, with the Brewers receiving prospect Mauricio Dubon as well. Shaw fits the Brewers’ narrative in acquiring young, controllable talent, as he does not face free agency until after the 2022 season. Equally important, the Brewers had a gaping hole at third base following the trade of Aaron Hill during the 2016 season; Jonathan Villar’s extended trial at the position during the latter part of the season displayed that he did not possess the necessary defense to succeed there, and Hernan Perez seemed to be better suited for a super utility role. Enter: Travis Shaw.
Milwaukee presented the perfect opportunity for Shaw. After playing in Boston with a log jam of third basemen behind him threatening to supplant him at any moment, including top MLB prospect Yoan Moncada, Milwaukee’s lack of third basemen in the organization provided little in the way of uncertainty for Shaw. The job was his upon arrival, and would stay that way unless he failed his way out of a lineup spot. The worst-case scenario in this low-risk/high-reward acquisition would be that Shaw serves as a serviceable stop gap until the farm system develops a high-level third baseman. The best-case scenario, which looks to be the case, is that Shaw develops into a piece to build around in the Brewers’ future.
Thus far, Shaw has performed tremendously. He has solidified the middle of the lineup by leading the Brewers in RBIs (34) and hitting for a high average (.290), playing a huge role in the Brewers’ surprisingly elite offense thus far in the season. This production definitely could have resulted from the presumed confidence the Brewers have in Shaw, with him being the only true third baseman on the roster. More likely, this success is due to changes Shaw has made to his approach at the plate. To illustrate, Shaw has excelled from a sabermetric standpoint thus far in the season. He has cut his fly ball percentage by 27%, dropping from 45% in 2016 to 28% in 2017. This has translated to more meaningful contact, as 82.9% of his balls in play this year are classified as medium or hard contact in comparison to 78% last year. Hard contact translates into offensive potency, and that certainly has been the case for Shaw. Shaw’s OPS of .882 displays the straightforward output resulting from these improvements.
In addition to his bat, Shaw provides adequate defense at the hot corner. He possesses a strong arm, and although he looks a little stiff and athletically limited at times, he makes all the routine plays and will surprise you with a web gem every now and then. For Brewers’ fans reference, he falls somewhere on the spectrum between Aramis Ramirez (excellent) and Juan Francisco (atrocious).
Due to all of these factors, Shaw looks to have a relatively stable future in Milwaukee. Lucas Erceg, the Brewers’ presumed third baseman of the future, currently resides in Class-A Advanced. Erceg possesses a very comparable offensive skill set to Shaw, but it will be at least two years until he is ready for the MLB level, especially given his early season struggles in the minors. The only legitimate threat besides Erceg to Shaw would be current second baseman Jonathan Villar if he were forced off his spot at second base due to the call-up of a high tier minor league prospect like Isan Diaz or Mauricio Dubon. Even if this situation did come to fruition, Shaw offers a better offensive profile for third base, and his defense suits the position much better due to his strong arm and Villar’s awful defense at the hot corner during August and September of 2016.
Become familiar with the name “Travis Shaw”, Milwaukee; I have the feeling that we are going to be hearing it a lot for the foreseeable future.