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2017 Deep League Player Profiles: Travis Shaw

The new Brewers third baseman has more to offer than you think.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to catch up on all the 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

Because I play in deeper leagues than the standard setup and I know others do too, I thought today I would profile a player that is only relevant in such leagues, but might have sneaky value. I had written this guy off after an awful second half of 2016 (0.194 AVG! 0.259 OBP! 0.360 SLG!), but I think there is reason for optimism here. The tl;dr version of this post is: Travis Shaw has some power upside, can take a walk, is still young, and might be the best of the deep league 3B options. If you want to know why I came to that conclusion, I suggest reading further.

First, I want to put some context around how deep a league we are talking about here. Shaw is being drafted at #311 in NFBC as the 26th 3B off the board. He would be one of the last picks if you had a 10-team league with 30-man rosters or a 25th round pick in a 12-team league. You get the idea. Other 3B near him in NFBC drafts: Yangervis Solarte, Danny Valencia, Matt Duffy, Martin Prado, and Pablo Sandoval.

That Awful 2nd Half of 2016

Ok, let’s now turn our focus to Milwaukee’s new hot corner man. We’ll start with that awful, no good, turrible 2016 second half. His strikeout and walk rates barely changed at all between the two halves. His ISO dropped a little from 0.187 to 0.166, but that’s certainly not unreasonable. His HR/FB% actually increased from 9.4% to 11.7%. If you’ve looked at his season splits, you know that I am burying the lede here. His BABIP went from a robust 0.336 to a dismal 0.229. That killed his average, OBP, and slugging.

Now, I’m not going to say it was all bad luck. He starting hitting more fly balls (which have a lower BABIP) and pulling the ball more (more shiftable). His line drive rate dropped almost 4%. His Hard% dropped 7%. So, there are certainly legitimate reasons for a decline in BABIP, but a drop of over 0.100 is pretty unusual. I think he deserved a better BABIP.

Room For Growth

Ok, you might say, but you still haven’t convinced me that he can be a better hitter in 2017 than 2016. First, let’s agree that at about 27 years old, he’s still young enough to adapt and get better. Second, take a glance at this info:

HR/FB% 2016: 10.3%

Expected HR/FB% 2016, distance: 13.8%

Expected HR/FB% 2016, exit velocity: 10.7%

This data comes from Jeff Zimmerman’s research over at Fangraphs using corrected Statcast data, that I used in a previous post. You can see there is a little room for a HR/FB% bump using batted ball distance and even a tiny one using exit velocity.

For more good news, let’s turn to another Statcast value, barrels per batted ball event. This is basically the % of all batted balls that a hitter has that had exit velocity and launch angle in an ideal range. Shaw’s 8.8% puts him about #100 in baseball, near Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, holy crap, what is going on here? Daniel Murphy’s at 8.9%, Paul Goldschmidt’s at 8.5%, and Madison Bumgarner! is at 8.6%. So...either this stat is kind of wonky, or Shaw was making quality contact like all those guys. Hmm. I’m going to label this inconclusive and move on.

Park Factors

Oh, here’s some actual good news. Shaw is moving from Fenway Park to Miller Park. You knew that. But, did you know just how much help that is to a left-handed hitter like Shaw? Fangraphs’ park factors page shows Fenway with an 89 park factor for lefty home runs, good for third lowest in baseball, behind only Miami and San Fran. Miller Park, on the other hand, has a 114 factor, putting it just one point behind Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium, and Coors Field! for tops in the league. Who knew it was that friendly to lefties hitting homers?

With that big change in home park, I expect some increase in home run output. Especially when it is combined with the HR/FB% increase I mentioned earlier. None of this analysis even mentions that he could improve or get stronger over the offseason. It is all assuming the 2016 version shows up. I mentioned walks earlier and I just wanted to mention that his walk rate is locked in around 8%, which is about league average, but better than some of the other 3B being drafted around him.

So, we have some reasons to expect more power in 2017, but there are certainly signs that he has a low ceiling as well. He’s likely not going to have a J.D. Martinez-type breakout. This is especially true because Shaw is already hitting more than 40% fly balls and pulling 40% of the time, which is how hitters usually tap into more power. I’m not expecting you to suddenly believe Shaw is a top 20 third baseman. That being said, I like him more than most of the options being drafted near him.

The Competition

Pablo Sandoval is a huge question mark in terms of health, playing time, power, and general skill after two down years. Shaw is a much safer bet in all those areas. Prado and Duffy offer a solid batting average, much better than Shaw, but are guaranteed to have less power and homers feed the run and RBI categories directly. Solarte is similar to Shaw in that he doesn’t have a huge ceiling, is average at about everything, and is pretty safe. Those two are very close. Danny Valencia is interesting for his likely better power output, but he has more playing time concerns than Solarte or Shaw, being platooned often in his career.

2017 Projection:

0.250/0.320/0.440, 21 HR, 65 R, 70 RBI, 5 SB

My projection is more optimistic than ZiPS and Steamer, for the most part, but not too far off either. ZiPS gives him 20 HR in 542 PA and I’m taking the over on those PA numbers, so 21 should be no problem. His average and slugging should go up with an increase in homers and some better luck. I’m not sure where he will end up in the lineup, but 5th or 6th is most likely, so I gave him more RBI than runs.

I think many will dismiss Shaw based on his disappointing second half, but I think there is value to be had and he belongs on deep league rosters. Tschus!