The Early Returns on Travis Shaw at Second Base

Over the past few weeks, the Brewers have seemed to be in desperate need of a new second baseman. With Asdrubal Cabrera, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar all available, the market looked promising for the Milwaukee. The Brewers, however, acquired none of them.

Instead, the club went another route, trading for third baseman Mike Moustakas. Milwaukee’s third baseman at the time was Travis Shaw. After arriving from Boston prior to the start of the 2017 season, Shaw has been pretty great for Milwaukee,producing a 118 wRC+ and 6.0 WAR. Those figures actually exceed Moustakas’ numbers during that time; the now former Royal has recorded a 110 wRC+ and 3.7 WAR during the same timeframe. In order to accommodate Moustakas, however, Shaw has moved from third base to second. It’s a roundabout way to solving the second-base problem. Is it an effective one, though?

Let’s figure out some reasonable expectations for Shaw and draw some too-early conclusions based on his first day on the job.

Second and third base actually have the same positional adjustment in WAR — 2.5 runs over the course of a full season — so, generally speaking, we might expect similar defensive numbers at third and second base. There’s obviously a great deal of overlap in terms of the skillset that’s required to play either position. Historically, however, taller plays have been sent to third with their shorter peers moving to second base. Travis Shaw is on the bigger side, listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. That’s generally what might be thought of as the frame for a corner infielder and not someone playing up the middle. In fact, Shaw’s draft report at Baseball America from 2011 says the following:

Though Shaw has the hands and arm strength for the hot corner, he lacks quickness and agility, so he’ll probably have to move to first base as a pro.

That scouting report has more or less guided Shaw’s usage as a pro. He played mostly first base with the Red Sox, both throughout the minors and during his debut season. Most references to his defense indicated he was decent at first base. Kiley McDaniel mentioned Shaw was “passable” at third.

When Pablo Sandoval played his way out of the starting job in the spring of 2016 and subsequently had shoulder surgery, Shaw became the everyday third baseman and he’s acquitted himself quite well ever since. In nearly 3,000 innings, he’s been slightly above average by UZR (+3.5) and even better than that by DRS (+22). Looking at the numbers, I feel pretty confident saying Shaw has turned himself into at least an average third baseman and maybe a bit better than that.

Exactly how those skills will translate to second base isn’t exactly clear. A look at the players with at least 500 plate appearances at second and third base since 2013, suggests a slight downturn, as the table below illustrates.

Moving Between Second and Third Since 2013
Name DEF/600 2B DEF/600 3B Difference/600 Difference/200
Yolmer Sanchez 9.2 4.6 4.6 1.5
Yangervis Solarte 1.6 -0.1 1.7 0.6
Derek Dietrich -2.2 -3.3 1.1 0.4
Matt Carpenter -3.3 -1.3 -2.0 -0.7
Josh Harrison 1.8 4.3 -2.5 -0.8
Aaron Hill -2.5 0.1 -2.6 -0.9
Jedd Gyorko 1.3 6.1 -4.8 -1.6
Brett Lawrie -6.4 0.2 -6.6 -2.2
Anthony Rendon 3.4 10.0 -6.6 -2.2
AVERAGE 0.3 2.3 -2.0 -0.7
At least 500 PA at both positions.

The last column is per 200 plate appearances, roughly the one-third of the season that’s remaining this year. This is just a small snapshot, of course — one that doesn’t completely account for playing time, age, and familiarity — but it does suggest that, for the rest of the season, the difference between Shaw at second and Shaw at third should be pretty negligible. Of the players Shaw’s size, only Matt Carpenter, listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, comes close to Shaw. At 28 years old, Shaw is still at the age of his career where his defensive skills should be fairly close to their height, even if he isn’t what he was a few years ago.

According to our Depth Charts, which currently project Mike Moustakas for a 115 wRC+ and Shaw for 108, the Brewers are about to gain one run on offense at third base the rest of the way, which should negate the potential loss of value from Shaw moving from third base to second base. Shaw figures to be about five runs better on offense at second base than the players he is replacing, so if he can handle second base with somewhat decent proficiency, that means about a half-win for Milwaukee. A pretty big upgrade. He has played in the area of second base before on shifts, as the play below demonstrates.

He doesn’t look the smoothest out there, but he’s got good hands and can get rid of the ball quickly, which is important. As for whether he can handle the position the rest of the season, let’s look at his only game at second base. (He was used in Sunday’s game as a pinch-hitter.)

In the second inning, with Evan Longoria up to bat, the Brewers were in the shift for the righty, with Shaw deployed at the typical shortstop position.

He handled the hop well and made the throw over to the first baseman on a play that might resemble something he’s seen at third base. Due to the velocity of the batted ball and Longoria’s modest speed, Shaw had plenty of time to make the throw without feeling rushed. If there are worries about Shaw’s range, they weren’t tested here and the throw wasn’t one made by a second baseman, either. Shaw made a solid play. Shaw might have been ready for a play to happen in innings 3-5, but no balls came his way until Andrew McCutchen came to bat in the sixth. Again, the Brewers had the shift on with Shaw playing in the normal shortstop position.

This was just a pop-up. Nothing to see here. Shaw wasn’t directly involved in any more plays for the rest of the inning, but he did show up in the back of the screen on this stolen-base attempt.

This might not say all that much about Shaw’s ability to handle second, but it does show he was at least moving toward second base to help back up the play. That’s probably not something he was required to do as much at third base, and maybe he was a little late on this play or another stolen-base attempt in the first, but he wasn’t caught flatfooted. The next inning provided Shaw with his only really difficult chance of the day, and he came through.

Again, not overly graceful. Shaw isn’t fast and his footwork might not be ideal, but he got his glove in the right place to make the play. In all, Shaw made every play required of him, including handling a somewhat difficult short hop. He also turned a potential bloop hit into an out. We didn’t see him have to make the pivot and turn a double play. We didn’t see him have to charge on a ball and make a quick throw to first. We didn’t see him have to range in either direction and make the throw to first at an unfamiliar angle.

There will be more tests to come for Shaw, but he passed the first one. It’s possible Milwaukee will choose to platoon Shaw for much of the rest of the season, further limiting his exposure to second base and maximizing his offensive impact. The Brewers needed an upgrade at second base, and even with a few hiccups, Shaw seems likely to provide that upgrade.

We hoped you liked reading The Early Returns on Travis Shaw at Second Base by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Would have made a lot more sense if this was to make room for Manny Machado, not Mike effing Moustakas


It’s actually Mike Christopher Moustakas.