In an effort to plug the holes in one of the league’s worst pitching staffs last year, the Mets are believed to be targeting bullpen help. Two teams have made an offer to free agent reliever Bryan Shaw, and it stands to reason the Mets might be one of them.
On paper, the two sides appear to be a great match: New York needs an arm for the high-leverage middle innings, and the 30-year-old right-hander would pitch for new manager Mickey Callaway, his pitching coach for the five years he spent in Cleveland. Shaw was very successful during that time, as he posted a 3.11 ERA, 1.188 WHIP, allowed only 31 home runs in 358.2 innings, and pitched 18 innings in the playoffs.
A closer look, however, shows that Shaw carries significant risk. Over the past four years, Shaw has led the American League in appearances three times, and was second in the league in 2015. This can be read as an indicator of reliability, both for a player’s health and as his trustworthiness in any game situation. However, that much work puts significant mileage on a player’s body, and the Mets should be wary of Shaw’s viability as a top-tier middle-reliever going forward.
The track record of relievers with similar usage at a similar age does not instill a great deal of confidence. Of the 10 most similar pitchers through the age of 29 (according to Baseball Reference), by the age of 31, all but three showed a notable decline in their statistics. With Shaw likely commanding a three-year deal, it is very possible the Mets will receive diminishing returns before the contract ends.
The most comparable pitcher, Ramon Ramirez, saw his ERA balloon at 29 from 2.12 to 4.24, coincidentally in 2012 after the Mets dealt Angel Pagan to the Giants for him and Andres Torres. Similarly, Bill Dawley’s ERA climbed from 3.32 in 1986 (age 28) to 4.47 in 1987, and struggled to make a major league roster for the rest of his career. The outliers are two submariners (Joe Smith and Mark Eichorn) whose unconventional deliveries likely extended their respective careers, and Horacio Pina, who left MLB at age 29 to play in his native Mexico.
Another potential red flag is Shaw’s low strikeout rate, which lies at 8.0 K/9 for his career. Cleveland was one of the best defensive teams in the league last year, and Shaw’s ability to induce ground balls meshed perfectly with that. The Mets on the other hand, were among the worst. With Amed Rosario as a fulltime shortstop and a possible upgrade coming in free agency, the team certainly stands to improve in 2018, however the Mets defense will almost certainly still be a significant downgrade for Shaw.
Is Shaw an upgrade over some of the guys the Mets trotted out there in 2017? Absolutely. But if they do sign Shaw, New York would be assuming some risk. There is certainly a chance that Shaw bucks the trend and continues to be a reliable righty reliever out of the bullpen. The Mets defense is presumably shedding a huge minus in Jose Reyes, so there is potential for this to be a successful signing. However, there is also every possibility that Shaw falls apart, and the Mets once again struggle to hold leads for their starters.
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For baseball fans, the gap from November to the end of February can feel like an eternity. But this past Saturday, the Queens Baseball Convention (QBC) at Katch in Astoria took the edge off for Mets die-hards.