Covering the Bases: Game 152

shawSome notes and quotes from Thursday’s 5-2 win over the Royals

FIRST: Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate what Bryan Shaw has been able to do for the Indians.

For four consecutive seasons, Shaw has logged 70 or more games for Cleveland. Fans always seem to latch on to one player to illogically criticize and Shaw, for whatever reason, has become a social-media punching bag for some fans. It’s a cruel existence for a reliever. One bad outing gets remembered more than a quiet, prolonged scoreless streak.

Here’s a hot take for you: Bryan Shaw has been pretty darned reliable.

Shaw was out there again on Thursday night, breezing through the eighth inning to set up a save for Cody Allen. More often than not, that’s been the combination under the watch of Indians manager Terry Francona. And no one in baseball has been relied upon more than Shaw since Tito came to town.

“Over a four-year period,” Francona said, “I’d bet you Bryan’s pitched more than probably any pitcher in baseball.”

That’s a fact.

Over the 2013-16 seasons, Shaw has logged 297 appearances, which rank first among all pitchers in baseball. The right-hander’s innings workload (280.1) ranks third among Major League relievers in that span. From 2012-2016, Shaw also leads baseball with 361 appearances, and is fifth in that five-year span with 339.2 innings pitched. Shaw has a 2.95 ERA over the past four years and a 3.05 ERA over the past five.

Shaw’s four seasons with 70-plus appearances are a franchise record, and he is one of only 14 active pitchers to have at least four years with that many outings.

“One, you’ve got to be good,” Francona said of Shaw’s high volume of games. “Two, you’ve got to be resilient. To me, it’s something that, that’s why I probably do get protective of him, because he takes the ball when a lot of other pitchers may not take the ball. There’s something to be said for that.

“And, he’s throwing harder now than he was at the beginning of the year. It’s amazing to me.”

That is also a fact. Shaw averaged 94.3 mph with his cutter on Thursday night and topped out at 95.9 mph. The righty’s pitch velocity has ticked up over the past few months, and is indeed higher than it was back at the start of the season. Shaw’s velo is also noticeably higher than it was last season.

Take a look at the monthly breakdown of Shaw’s cutter velo over the past two years:

shawvelo

Shaw is not only throwing harder. He’s also been more effective as the season has progressed.

Remember Shaw’s four-run meltdown on July 18 in Kansas City? When fans called for his head, and reporters asked Francona if he was thinking of making a change? Well, since that game, Shaw has a 0.70 ERA with 24 strikeouts and nine walks in 29 appearances (25.2 IP). Shoot, even if you include that mess of an outing, Shaw has a 1.36 ERA in his last 43 games (39.2 IP), dating back to a rough three-game stretch in June.

The Andrew Miller Effect has also helped Shaw.

Prior to Miller’s arrival, Shaw faced left-handed batters 43-percent of the time (71 of 165 opponent at-bats) and allowed an .826 OPS to those hitters. Since the start of August, when Miller came on board, Shaw has faced lefties 35-percent (23 of 66 at-bats) of the time, limiting them to a .553 OPS.

Likewise, Shaw’s showing against righties in the A.M. (After Miller) has improved over in the P.M. (Pre-Miller). Since the big lefty joined the ‘pen, Shaw has held righties to a .521 OPS (43 at-bats). That mark was .671 (94 at-bats) before August.

“It’s uncanny,” Indians reliever Dan Otero said of Shaw’s ability to balance performance with a high workload. “I can’t even say how amazing that is as a reliever, to keep his arm, his mind in that shape to be able to do that. I think some of it maybe is he doesn’t think about it too much. I think that helps him.

“It’s impressive to watch. You don’t see many relievers do that, go 70-75 games, three-four years in a row. He’s been able to do it and effectively.”

SECOND: Let’s get back to The Andrew Miller Effect for a moment.

Adding Miller to Cleveland’s bullpen was not only a tremendous move due to his skills as an elite relief ace. It was also a great addition due to the ripple effect it has had throughout the rest of the relief corps. In Miller, Francona has a pitcher willing to work in any inning, and able to handle multi-inning situations, if needed.

Due to that mentality and ability on Miller’s part, Francona can better mix and match with the rest of his arms. He can determine whether a particular part of an opposing lineup is better suited for Otero or Shaw or Allen or Zach McAllister. Shaw doesn’t need to be locked in to the eighth inning, nor Allen for the ninth.

“Bringing in a guy like Miller into the bullpen has to help any bullpen,” Otero said, “especially here, where you already had two stalwarts down there in Cody and Bryan, what they’ve done the last few years. I think Tito has the confidence in pretty much everybody down there. I don’t think he shies away from anybody.”

Cleveland’s bullpen is easily a Top Five group in the American League on the season as a whole, depending on what stats you favor. The relief corps ranks first in ERA, and third in FIP and opponents’ average overall. Since Miller’s arrival, it’s fair to argue that the Tribe ‘pen has turned into the best in the AL, and right near the top of baseball.

The five arms shouldering the load since Aug. 1 have been Otero (25 IP), Miller (25 IP), McAllister (21 IP), Shaw (20 IP) and Allen (18.2 IP). That quintet has combined for a 1.81 ERA, 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 9.8 K/9 in 109.2 IP. They have 119 strikeouts against 25 walks in that time period.

Let’s play, “Guess The ERA” now. I’m going to give you the five ERAs of the relievers I just mentioned, and you have to guess which average belongs to each pitcher. Ready?

A) 2.89
B) 1.80 (two pitchers)
C) 1.71
D) 0.90

(Answer at the bottom of this post)

THIRD: All this bullpen talk begs the question: Did we just see a postseason teaser on Thursday night?

Everyone knows the issues facing Cleveland’s rotation by now. With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar injured, it’s Kluber and Bauer and pray for showers, right? But, maybe the saying should be, “Give ’em five, and ‘Pen keeps you alive.” Or, something. It needs some work.

The point here is that, given the strength and depth of the Tribe bullpen, an effective five-inning start might just be enough. All four starters (Kluber, Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger) are capable of logging more than five frames, but Francona might be able to feel more comfortable having a quick hook with the weapons he has in the ‘pen.

“There’s a whole lot of depth down there,” Allen said. “The end of the game is tough, trying to piece together certain guys against certain hitters for a while, for four innings. It can be challenging, but we have the right pieces down there to do it.

“Obviously, with our rotation — even the guys that are in it right now like Clev and Tomlin — we feel confident that they’re going to go out there and get us into the seventh every time they toe the rubber. And our defense is a strength. And our offense, when we’re playing well, we score a lot of runs late. That takes a lot of pressure off the bullpen.”

In Thursday’s win, Clevinger logged 80 pitches in five innings, holding the Royals to two runs. When he bowed out of the ballgame, Cleveland and K.C. were knotted, 2-2. Otero then worked two innings, Shaw handled the eighth and Allen slammed the door. Along the way, the offense grabbed a lead.

It worked. And it’s worked in the postseason in the past (more on that in the story on Indians.com). Just ask the Royals.

HOME: The race is on. With 10 games to go, Carlos Santana and Mike Napoli have 34 home runs apiece.

Santana’s latest shot was the decisive blow in Thursday’s game. In the sixth inning, he drilled an 0-1 pitch from Dollon gee out to right field for a tie-breaking, three-run blast. That moved him into a tied for the team lead in long balls with Napoli.

Napoli has been in a bit of a funk again, going 0-for-4 on Thursday to increase his drought to 0-for-20. In the dozen games before that cold spell, Napoli had five homers and a .605 slugging percentage (albeit with a .209 average). The Indians have seen Nap get plenty hot after slumps, though. His homers tend to come in bunches.

Santana, meanwhile, has hit .350 (21-for-60) with five doubles, six homers, 11 runs and 15 RBIs in his last 12 games. He’s also had more walks (12) than strikeouts (11) in that stretch. Thursday was a classic Santana performance: one walk, one double and one homer.

Santana and Napoli are the first Tribe teammates to have at least 34 bombs apiece since Jim Thome and Juan Gonzalez accomplished the feat in 2001. Thome also did it in 2000 (alongside Manny Ramirez) and in 1996 (with Albert Belle). Those are the only four such occurrences in club history.

“When we went into the year,” Francona said, “everybody said, ‘How are you going to score? How are you going to score?’ Then without [Michael] Brantley you’re kind of thinking, ‘Is this going to stretch?’ And then you look up and you’ve got two guys who have hit 30.

“It’s been fun. I’m happy for Carlos, because he’s made an effort in so many areas to be better than he was. An you don’t see that that often in a veteran player. He’s done a really good job.”

Answer: Allen (A), Miller and Otero (B), McAllister (C), Shaw (D)

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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