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Swinging for the Fences: Bryan Shaw – The next Tribe closer?

Crafty young right-hander could be key candidate for Indians closer role in 2014

Swinging for the Fences: Bryan Shaw – The next Tribe closer?
November 5, 2013
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In all honesty, I wanted to like Chris Perez and believe in him being a dominant closer. I defended him all through 2012 even after his controversial comments turned off a lot of fans. I defended him through much of this season as well giving him the benefit of the doubt due to early-season injury issues.

Then came that horrific night on August 5th against the Tigers, a night many Tribe faithful would like to or have already wiped from their memories, where the pitcher formerly known as Pure Rage blew a key game for the Tribe which some could argue was the deciding factor in the division race. That was the night I lost faith and his subsequent poor outings after that only served to confirm my newfound doubts.

Well, needless to say, Chris Antonetti and the Indians organization drew the same conclusion as they parted ways with the former All-Star closer last week via unconditional release. So now the question is, who will be the Tribe’s lockdown man moving forward and where will they find him?

Thanks to an abundance of relief pitching depth in their minor league system their choices are not limited. You’ve got Rookie of the Year candidate Cody Allen and his heat and hook, former setup man Vinnie Pestano looking for a rebound as well as Joe Smith and his submarine slider should the Indians see fit to bring him back.

Nice list of candidates. However, I’d like to take a look at an in-house option who may be one of the frontrunners for the job if it ends up being an open audition. Enter Bryan Shaw, the young right-hander who made a solid impression in his first year with the Featherheads after being traded by Arizona in the offseason. Were this an election, consider this my official endorsement.

Bryan Anthony Shaw was born November 8th, 1987 in Livermore, California. A lifetime athlete, Shaw attended Livermore High School where he lettered in baseball, basketball and football. Shaw was named to the All-East Bay Athletic League in football as a wide-receiver in 2004 and in baseball as a pitcher in 2005.

Shaw graduated in 2005 and attended college at Long Beach State University where he majored in economics. His focus shifted primarily to baseball in college as he pitched for the 49ers as a reliever/closer. Over his three-year career at LBSU, Shaw compiled a 9-5 record with a 2.20 ERA (second-best in school history) and 23 saves over 80 appearances. Shaw joins noted MLB stars Evan Longoria, Jered Weaver, Troy Tulowitzki and teammate Jason Giambi among others as LBSU alumni to make it to the big leagues.

The Diamondbacks selected Shaw in the second round of the 2008 amateur draft. Splitting time between rookie league and single-A South Bend, Shaw struggled going 0-2 with a 5.22 ERA in 21 appearances. Between 2009 and 2010, Shaw’s struggles continued as he posted a combined 7-16 record with a 4.48 ERA in 63 games.

After being promoted to AA Mobile in 2010, Shaw began the 2011 season there where he saw a dramatic improvement going 3-1 with an 0.87 ERA, which earned him a trip to AAA Reno and Phoenix to join the D-Backs in June.  Shaw started 2012 in the majors before being sent down to AAA for a brief period and finishing out the year back up with Arizona. Over his minor league career, Shaw appeared as a closer in 26 games and converted 22 saves.

In his budding major league career with Arizona, Shaw put up solid numbers going 2-6 with a 3.02 ERA over the course of two seasons. He also has two big league saves in four opportunities. Small sample size, yes, but that in addition to his minor league and collegiate experience as a closer make him far from unfamiliar to the role.

In the 2012-2013 offseason, Shaw was included in a three-team mega-trade between the Diamondbacks, Reds and Indians which sent him in addition to teammates Matt Albers and Trevor Bauer along with former Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs to Cleveland. Arizona received reliever Tony Sipp and first base prospect Lars Anderson from the Indians and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorious from the Reds. Cincinnati was awarded long-time Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and utility man Jason Donald.

I have to be honest, when that deal was first announced, I was almost as excited about getting Shaw as I was about getting top starting pitching prospect Trevor Bauer. After watching film on the right-handed reliever, I knew the Tribe would be getting something special for the bullpen. His performance in 2013 as an Indian only reinforced those beliefs.

Shaw’s 2013 season could be best described like this: Midseason struggles bookended by dominance. Coming to a new team, let alone a new league posed some challenges, but nothing he wasn’t up for. In spring training, the right-hander posted an 0.82 ERA in 10 appearances, thus earning him a spot in the bullpen.

Shaw came out of the gates with more of the same putting up an 0.87 ERA in April. It was when the season wore on and the league made adjustments to him. It was a rough stretch for him until he made counter-adjustments and finished the season without allowing a run through all of September averaging nearly a strikeout per inning.

Shaw is no Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman with the heat, but he can throw as high as 96 mph on the gun. Over the course of his career, Shaw has been known for the deceptive movement on his pitches. He can throw a fastball, cutter, slider and changeup, although the cut-fastball and slider are his go-to pitches. His cutter/cut-fastball is the primary weapon in his arsenal as he generated 48 of his 76 strikeouts in 2013 with it, according to Fangraphs.

I’m not saying he’s the next Mariano Rivera, but a great deal of the success in Mo’s historic career came courtesy of that cutter. The key for Shaw is to continually make adjustments and not allow his cutter and slider to go flat, as they did for a period of time during last season. His movement and deception on his pitches are dominant as long as he can maintain it and not become predictable.

Chris Antonetti said in the press conference to announce the signing of Jason Giambi and release of Chris Perez that Shaw and Cody Allen would be the primary internal candidates for the vacant closer role. Allen’s emergence as a dominant late-inning setup man would certainly make him a viable option, but don’t sleep on Bryan Shaw and what he brings to the table.

Jake’s Takes

Indians re-sign Jason Giambi to minor league deal…

I doubt Chris Antonetti read my piece last week about why the Tribe should re-sign Giambi, but it’s good to see that “Papa G” or “Big G” will be in Cleveland sports lingo for another season. It’s interesting that they made the same offer as last season with a spring training invite. No guarantee of making the roster out of camp, although his chances do look pretty good at this point.

However, Giambi did not hesitate for he knew his situation (age, etc.) and that he is not likely to get a guaranteed contract even from a team who loves him as much as Cleveland. Plus, he was and is perfectly happy in his role. Like I said before, in the late innings where the Tribe needs a big hit, there aren’t very many guys I would rather see coming off the bench to pinch-hit.

Tigers hire Brad Ausmus as new manager…

Not a whole lot to say about this since Ausmus hasn’t had any prior managing experience. In fact, he isn’t that far removed from being a player as he retired in 2010. He’s had two brief stints with the Tigers in his career, so he’s not unfamiliar with the organization. It just seems a bit odd that they would take a gamble on a greenhorn skipper in the middle of such a dominant era for Detroit baseball as they continue to try and make a push for a World Series ring.

This isn’t a new strategy in baseball, however. Hiring former catchers with little to no managing or coaching experience is becoming a trend among MLB teams today. Take a look at the Marlins with Mike Redmond or the Cardinals with Mike Matheny. Obviously the Tigers are hoping for an outcome similar to the latter, but we’ll see.

Rumor Mill Rumblings

  • Indians interested in veteran starter Tim Hudson To be honest, I’m undecided on how I feel about this possibility. Obviously the upside is getting a veteran leader who has had a successful career to anchor the rotation. However, that’s what we thought we were getting with Derek Lowe and Brett Myers, too. I guess it would depend on what his asking price was and what the Indians were offering. On a side note, Hudson has familiarity with Terry Francona as they were both on the Oakland A’s together as pitcher and bench coach, respectively, back in 2003.
  • Tribe makes qualifying offer to Ubaldo Jimenez Just hours prior to the 5pm deadline on Monday, the Indians announced they had extended a $14 million qualifying offer to right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, who is coming off his best season in a few years. He now has until November 11th to decide whether or not to accept it. Basically, the team did all they could do. Now it’s up to the big guy to decide if he wants to stay in Cleveland or negotiate somewhere else. It will be painful losing him after such a great rebound season, but at least they’ll get something in return in the form of draft pick compensation.
  • Corey Hart does not receive qualifying offer from Brewers Hart is one of the more intriguing options that has been linked to the Tribe so far this offseason. The power and run-producing potential is obvious as he was a two-time All-Star in Milwaukee, but the million dollar question is can he come back strong from last year’s injury and stay healthy? That being said, he seems to fit the mold of injured or rejected players on the rebound that the Indians seemed to seek out last season (i.e. Ryan Raburn, Scott Kazmir, etc.).

In conclusion…

The Indians have several choices to consider at closer and also have the option of finding someone externally to do the job. However, I think the team has what they need to fill the role internally and should save their limited resources for improving the offense and bolstering the rotation. Bryan Shaw will get a long look at closer as will Cody Allen, but there are other viable candidates on the roster who could also make an impression. I’m casting my vote for Shaw, but I’ll trust Tito to make the final call.

Follow me on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake for all the latest Cleveland Indians news and baseball chat.

User Comments

Tony
November 6, 2013 - 7:05 PM EST
I learned my lesson a few years ago when I reported Jensen Lewis' release well before anyone knew....it was something shared to me but was not to be made public. Well, I made it public and made for a bad situation for the player and team (he didn't even know about it yet).....and I pissed off a good amount of people. Thankfully, that is in the past....a learning experience to keep specific player details out of things and to be more "vague" when talking about moves coming or true feelings about some guys.
Tony
November 6, 2013 - 7:03 PM EST
Ha, Larry, I could never publicly flat out say that. It would ruin any trust I have built and promises to keep it off the record etc. And obviously would create a bad situation for the team and player. That said, there are ways to drop nuggets here and there, as I often do, about how players are valued by the Indians and industry....
Larry
November 6, 2013 - 6:55 PM EST
Come on Tony tell us who they have already written off!!!! Or are you just making that up?
Larry
November 6, 2013 - 11:14 AM EST
Tony don't leave us hanging. Give us the names of the players that the Indians have written off!
Tony
November 6, 2013 - 9:59 AM EST
Bob, from a stuff, prospect pedigree status, command and so on.....they are different guys. If you offered up Lee, Adams and Guilmet for Rosenthal before the season or now, the Cardinals immediately hand up the phone. I'm talking about perceived value and upside.....not minor league stats which are often quite misleading. Can Lee, Guilmet, etc become more than expected? You bet. And I said so. But the reality is, a great many minor league relievers, especially ones not taken high in the draft or viewed as top prospects, ever have much major success in the bigs. It is often the failed starters or guys converted from starter to reliever out of need who get that shot.
Tony
November 6, 2013 - 9:56 AM EST
Completely agree with giving those guys like Lee, Guilmet etc a chance for mid-relief. Makes zero sense to spend money on it, even to resign a guy like Albers to a small deal, when they have a lot of capable arms for those roles they can go through. As for the backend, I still am not on board with a heavy dose of inexperience back there. I'm fine with trying a few guys like Allen and Shaw in the roles, but now as the sole options at this point. And the Indians believe that too, which is why you will see them add a reliever or two to the backend mix this offseason - probably at least one on a guaranteed deal and another one or two on minor league deals. Also, I'm not about writing stuff to make fans all warm and fuzzy feeling and providing unrealistic expectations just so fans feel good. I'm just the messenger here as a lot of what I say is from stuff I have learned in regular conversations with coaches, front office people and scouts throughout the year. Many would be surprised at some of the guys already written off by the organization....
Bob
November 6, 2013 - 9:48 AM EST
Check out Rosenthal/Martinez AAA numbers for comparison.....to Guilmet/Price/Lee and tell me how these guys are not in the same area code. Their numbers say otherwise. K/9 rate...K/bb rate....FIP etc.
Bob
November 6, 2013 - 9:29 AM EST
Tony I don't think I made myself clear. These less expensive guys we have are just as good as alot of expensive FA options for MR. And this allows our less expensive guys like Shaw/Adams to move to the backend and prove they can do it. Cause they can. Just like all non experienced have done in the past. Now, as far as you being realistic in your sports writing. This might be contributing to the lack of interest by fans. Could it be possible that as fans continue to read day after day the writings of negative or as you like to say realistic sports witing that they loose interest in there team. The way I view your thoughts is this. You think there are around 60 qualified big leaguers and the remaining 1100 or so that make the show each year are just simply fiilers. Well it takes them all to make up 30 teams. The way I view it!
Tony
November 6, 2013 - 8:53 AM EST
I wouldn't call it negative, just being realistic. I am a fan of Lee, Guilmet, Price, etc....but all are only viewed as mid-relief guys at the moment. Little potential as backend arms. Can they prove that notion wrong? Definitely. But the upside is limited and the odds are against that from happening. I am fine with making those guys the 6th or 7th guys in the pen to start out and go from there....sort of like with Pestano in 2011. If one catches fire, then that's great. But to rely on them as the answers for backend needs right out of the gates would be a significant mistake. Fill the backend of the pen on a short term basis with a proven guy or two, and give yourself some protection and more options there....and also some time for others to come out of the woodwork.
Bob
November 6, 2013 - 8:48 AM EST
Just read up on the available RP on Yahoo sports and based on that writers thoughts I would say Guilmet, Price, Adams and Lee are above many of these available arms. I see each of these getting a shot or bigger oppurtunity this year. And I also see a Rule 5 pick up if Price/Adams are not protected. Plus Tony always sees things with a negative eye. As seeing the great stats that Guilmet, Price, Lee have posted. And Adams will prevail this year is he stays healthy and it looks as though he will.
Jake D.
November 6, 2013 - 8:42 AM EST
Which is why I want to re-sign Smith. While he may not end up being the closer, he would still serve as an anchor in the back end of the 'pen while everyone else settles into their new roles.
Tony
November 6, 2013 - 8:36 AM EST
I agree to an extend Matt. The Cardinals fleshed that situation out all year, but they had some incredible internal solutions with Rosenthal, Martinez, etc to pick from. Guys like Guilmet, Lee, Price, etc are not even in the same area code as impact guys as those guys. If we had 2 or 3 Danny Salazar's in the mix for the backend of the pen it would be another thing, and comparable to the Cardinals. The Red Sox had Hanrahan and Bailey, two guys with experience in the role, and then turned to uehara who has spent most of his career pitching in the 8th/9th inning, so they had lots of experience. I do not subscribe to the belief you need a proven closer, because really, they come out of the woodwork every year.....but if you go with an inexperienced closer you sure as hell better have an experienced setup man. To go with complete inexperience in the backend of the pen - unless you are a doormat, rebuilding team - is setting yourself up for problems.
Rich
November 6, 2013 - 8:26 AM EST
Not sold on Shaw. He was brilliant in April (0.87 ERA) and September (0.00), but in between he was not a good pitcher.

May 5.06 ERA
June 4.63
July 5.14
August 4.30

Those are bad numbers for a one-inning matchup guy out of the bullpen. I think people remember his dominating performance in September (15.1 innings, 15 K's, 2 BB's, 0 earned runs), but forget that he was a below average pitcher for most of the season.

Also, he has no major league closing experience that I'm aware of.

But neither did Jose Mesa when he got the closer's job, so you never know.
Matthew
November 6, 2013 - 12:19 AM EST
I guess I'll say it again, since so many people commented about the need for a "proven" closer. 3 of the 4 teams that made it to the League Championship Series did so without a "proven" closer. The whole idea is a myth. Stop kidding yourselves.
Tony
November 5, 2013 - 4:30 PM EST
Those 40-man moves today were just procedural. No DL in the offseason. All four of them are in roster jeopardy this offseason.
Jake D.
November 5, 2013 - 4:16 PM EST
Thanks for the feedback, guys. Just to clarify, I'm not arguing against anyone's candidacy for closer. Allen is just as an intriguing option as Shaw and I wouldn't be opposed to him. And of course if Vinnie returns to form, then there's no argument he should be the closer.

My reason for choosing Shaw was because I like his stuff and think he has a lot of potential. While a lot of people like to see a power fastball from pitchers today, I enjoy watching a guy who has a nasty slider or cutter. Of course Shaw is young and untested in that role and will need more experience before we can form an intelligent opinion, but I liked what I saw from him both before and after he came to Cleveland.
Hermie13
November 5, 2013 - 3:43 PM EST
I wouldn't be surprised personally if Herrmann ends up DFAed at some point this winter if an extra 40-man spot is needed. Can't see many teams jumping at the bit to get a hold of him. Probably would be able to resign him to a minor league deal.
Walter
November 5, 2013 - 3:29 PM EST
I see that Frank Herrmann and Scott Barnes added back to 40 man roster. Herrmann coming off Tommy John surgery. Does he become a depth issue for the Indians later in the year along with Matt Capps?
Hermie13
November 5, 2013 - 3:08 PM EST
I thought Betancourt was out for all of 2014 with an injury? That's why the Rockies let him go.
Daingean
November 5, 2013 - 2:56 PM EST
I could see Shaw or Allen getting the closer gig but I would bet the CA goes out an gets an experienced closer. It might be a just in case situation but I doubt they go into the season with someone not experienced at closer on the staff.
Seth
November 5, 2013 - 2:37 PM EST
Betancourt tore his UCL.
Walter
November 5, 2013 - 2:10 PM EST
The Rockies have released our old friend Rafael Betancourt. Does he have anything left in the tank? Another inexpensive option where he could do the 8th or closer. All depends he not toast.
Tony
November 5, 2013 - 1:50 PM EST
If Pestano comes back and pitches to 2011 and 2012 levels, that's a bonus and he becomes your 8th or 9th inning guy (likely the closer). But we really won't know that until late in the spring and even then we probably won't know until at least a month into the season. He's a wildcard and just be looked at simply as a depth option for 2014 where if he is not right can be optioned to Columbus to maybe continue to work.
Walter
November 5, 2013 - 1:46 PM EST
What happens if Pestano returns to performing at 2011 and 2012 seasons? Does he become the 8th inning guy or does he compete for the closer role? I still see Shaw pitching 7th inning.
Seth
November 5, 2013 - 1:38 PM EST
Shaw's pitch is a 4-seam, I believe. A 4-seam cutter.
shy
November 5, 2013 - 11:45 AM EST
I like Shaw's potential, but he is not a proven everyday closer yet at this level- he started well and finished well last year but there was a spell in between where he was wild and couldn't get anybody out, so he needs to show me more before I give him the job. Yes good arm, and late movement on the 2 seam but he tends to work high in the zone IMO- a hallmark of a blow em away heaver in college but it doesn't blow everybody away in the majors. IMO he needs more bite on the slider, a minus 12 change up, and to work both sides of the plate with the 4 seam to fool people on a nightly closing basis. And not the best pitcher to come from Livermore High- that would be Randy Johnson, who also was a multi-sport athlete and was a late bloomer as a pitcher.
Dennis
November 5, 2013 - 10:07 AM EST
Shaw as closer.. passs
Hermie13
November 5, 2013 - 9:25 AM EST
I definitely wouldn't be opposed to Shaw getting a crack at the closer gig but part of me likes him a lot more in the 7th/8th. Sample size is still small being only 1 year but he was very good with limited damage while inheriting runners. Part of me would rather have his arm being used in tight spots in the 7th and 8th and Allen being used in the 9th.
Tony
November 5, 2013 - 9:24 AM EST
I think most people know how I feel. I like Shaw and Allen, but both have limited experience in expanded late inning roles. I'd like to see the Indians get creative and bring in a veteran late inning arm via free agency or trade, be it a closer or a setup man. But with that in mind, you see how Allen and Shaw do early in the season and go from there. There is just so much volatility with the pen that I am not sure I just want to throw all of my eggs in one basket on Allen and Shaw and hope they get the job done where if they struggle/fail then there are very limited options. Would rather they be the backup plan.
Seth
November 5, 2013 - 9:21 AM EST
I think the biggest problem with Shaw as closer is his l/r split, he is much tougher against right handers. Similar to Joe Smith. I thought a big part of Shaw and Smith's midseason struggles were due to the lack of a lefty to face tough left handed hitters. Once Scrabble came on board, Francona could mix and match better. That's why both guys work better in the setup role where you have more choice on who they face. Allen, on other hand, is more equally tough on both
Nick
November 5, 2013 - 9:12 AM EST
I'd be fine with giving some shots to both Shaw & Allen to start the year while getting Crockett's feet wet in the majors early on as a 7th inning guy and see how that works out.

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