Travis Shaw: The Brewers MVP

On December 6th, 2016, the Milwaukee Brewers acquired Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon, Josh Pennington, and a Player To Be Named Later (Yeison Coca) from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Tyler Thornburg. At the time, the trade was headlined by Thornburg, who was supposed to bolster the Red Sox bullpen behind Craig Kimbrel.

Since then, Thornburg has not thrown a single pitch for the Red Sox. Dubon, Pennington, and Coca are working their way through the Brewers system, but the real story from the trade has been Shaw’s breakout.

Upon the trade, Shaw immediately became the Brewers’ starting third baseman. What he has done since then, no one could have predicted. Shaw has been the Brewers most valuable player at 3.44 WARP, which ranks twenty-eighth in the league among position players. He has been the sixth-best third baseman in baseball according to WARP, behind Anthony Rendon, Justin Turner, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, and Jose Ramirez.

Shaw’s all-round game is placing him up with some of the biggest names in baseball.

It starts with Shaw’s hitting. He has the fourth-best OPS among all third baseman with over 200 plate appearances. He has already hit 23 home runs, seven more than he hit in 2016 in 151 more plate appearances. Shaw has hit at least four home runs in each month this season. He has added a consistent home run swing to his already double-prone approach, and he is tied for eighteenth in the league with twenty-four doubles after hitting thirty-four last year.

Shaw has both decreased his strikeout rate and increased his walk rate. His walk rate going from 8.1 percent in 2016 to 9.2 percent this year and his strikeout rate going from 25.1 percent to 22.2 percent. He is walking more and striking out less by simply swinging less. He has swung the bat at just 44 percent of the pitches thrown to him after swinging at 48 percent last year. Not only is he swinging less, but he is making more contact. His contact rate and swinging strike rate have both improved by over four percentage points.

While players around the league are riding the fly-ball revolution wave, Shaw is hitting more groundballs than ever. His GB/FB rate has gone from 0.81 in 2016 to 1.30 this year. Although he is hitting less fly balls, he is having much better results when he hits them. His batting average on fly balls is .375, which is nineteenth-best in the league among those with over 40 fly balls.

Shaw has also been a decent fielding third baseman. He has been worth 1.4 fielding runs above average. He has converted 3.42 more double plays than the average player. He has been an integral part of a Brewers infield defense which ranks third in baseball in defensive efficiency on groundballs. He has taken a step back as far as defense goes, he was third-best in fielding runs above average in 2016 for third baseman at 9.9 runs, but if he can go back to being half as strong at the hot corner as he was in 2016, he will be one of the best fielding third baseman in baseball again.

Shaw has complemented his strong offense and solid defense with outstanding baserunning. He has been the twentieth-best baserunner in baseball according to base running runs. He is 7/7 in stolen base opportunities. Only Lorenzo Cain has stolen more bases without a caught stealing. He is fourth-best in the league in stolen base runs (SBR). He is also eleventh-best in baseball in air advancement runs (AAR). Shaw is one of the best baserunners in the league despite a Sprint Speed of just 26.1 MPH, well below league average and even below average for third baseman.

The Brewers’ third baseman is on the cusp of joining the upper-echelon of his position. The lack of flash in his game and the fact that he is now in small market Milwaukee doesn’t help his cause, but if he keeps this up, analysts will have no choice but to consider him as one of the best third baseman in baseball. Travis Shaw is one of the biggest reasons, if not the main reason the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves in a dog fight at the top of the National League Central.

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