Five games mean next to nothing in a 162-game season, especially five games in April. Just take last season, for example. The Red Sox were 4-1 after five games, Hanley Ramirez was a steady offensive force and the rotation looked serviceable the first time through. Things were looking up in Boston to start 2015. Then they went very far south.
However, the Red Sox should feel good five games into 2016. They have a winning record after a series victory in Toronto over the reigning division champs, the offense – with the exception of Sunday – has been potent and Hanley Ramirez has yet to implode defensively.
But perhaps the most underrated success thus far has been Travis Shaw. Shaw has hit, fielded and filled his role as well as, if not better than, the Red Sox could’ve hoped five games in. This coming after he was chosen over Pablo Sandoval to be the Opening Day starter at third base in a decision that surprised some and overjoyed others. Sandoval was out of shape and coming off a disastrous 2015 season. Shaw was young and unproven. The decision will ultimately have little impact on who will see more playing time come May, June or beyond, but it was still significant given Sandoval’s $95 million contact and Shaw’s mere 65 games of major-league experience.
Regardless of the circumstances or what the future holds, the Red Sox should be pleased with what they’ve gotten from Shaw through the first week.
Regardless of the circumstances or what the future holds, the Red Sox should be pleased with what they’ve gotten through the first week. He hasn’t been flashy or overly impressive, but he’s been the steady, reliable player – both offensively and defensively – the Sox needed at that position. Shaw is the team’s No. 6 hitter, and has been a good one at that. He’s hit .313/.421/.438 and reached base in all five games, collecting hits in four of them. He’s also been error-free on defense through four starts at third and one a first. So far, so good.
Shaw’s bat has been a nice complement to the rest of the Red Sox’s lineup. It’s easy to fly under the radar following David Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez in the order, but he’s created offense on his own. Two of his five hits have been doubles, and he’s scored four runs and driven in one. It’s not much yet, but it’s refreshing when thinking of Sandoval’s -1.4 BWARP last season.
Shaw was especially successful against a pair of aces in Corey Kluber and Marcus Stroman. He had a pair of singles against Kluber’s sinker in the season opener and doubled off Stroman’s sinker on Friday. That’s top-tier starting pitchers throwing arguably their best pitches. That’s significant, but not as surprising when you recall the success Shaw had against pitches in the bottom of the strike zone last season.
The plot through the first four games shows Shaw seemingly picking up where he left off in that regard.
Shaw has also been solid with the glove. At 6-foot-4, 230-pounds, Shaw isn’t built like a third baseman, but he’s shown surprising range and mobility that the Red Sox couldn’t get from Sandoval, who posted a -7.8 FRAA last season. But Shaw hasn’t just been solid defensively, he’s shown some highlight-reel potential with plays like this and this.
What does this all mean for the rest of the season? It’s too early to tell how long the Shaw experiment at third will last. Sandoval may be primed for a full-time return sooner than we think, or maybe Shaw is the guy. Either way, it seems he still has much to prove. Shaw has been pinch hit for against lefties late in close games twice this season. The first came Wednesday night with the Red Sox down run against the Indians in the top of the sixth. Chris Young came in, doubled off Ross Detwiler and ultimately scored. Brock Holt moved to third base. Young pinch hit for Shaw again on Friday, this time with the Sox holding a one-run lead in the seventh and Brett Cecil on the mound for the Blue Jays. Young struck out, but the Red Sox still won, deeming the move meaningless. Shaw posted a .330 TAv against lefties last season, so choosing to platoon in that situation proves Shaw still has to earn John Farrell’s trust in late-game situations.
Shaw likely won’t continue at such a rate all season. One flaw in this microscopic 2016 sample size has been strikeouts. Shaw is tied for second on the team with seven strikeouts. He’s also yet to get a hit off four-seamers, striking out twice against the pitch, according to Brooks Baseball. Those trends continuing could lead to ugly results.
Here’s the problem with baseball analysis one week in: any praise is overly optimistic and any criticism is nit-picking. Perhaps everything Shaw has done so far will mean nothing in a month, as will this piece. Heck, I’m the same guy who in February didn’t even consider Shaw a candidate for third base this season. Take that for what you will.
Here’s what I can say confidently: the Shaw at third base experiment is off to a good start, and it’s part of why the Red Sox have a winning record entering their home opener. Anything close to this five-day production is good news for Shaw and bad news for Sandoval. The Red Sox needed a third baseman they could rely on. So far, Shaw has been that guy.
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