There’s no doubt the Boston Red Sox are thrilled with what they have gotten out of Travis Shaw both offensively and defensively this young season. Of all the moves they have made his starting over Pablo Sandoval has been arguably the biggest addition to the team. After only 60 plate appearances this season he’s accumulated a 1.0 WAR already which ranks him third overall in the American League. How much longer can Shaw keep this up and is he really this good?
One issue that has not changed for Shaw is his contact rate. This season he is striking out in 23 percent of plate appearances. That is severely going to hurt his batting average over the course of a full season and have him struggling often to make an impact. At the same time he’s walking around 8 percent of the time in Triple-A and his time in the majors. That’s a solid, but not great number.
So if Shaw is striking out often and only walking 8 percent of the time how is he hitting a slash line of .352/.417/.537 so far this year? The number one factor is BABIP, which tells how lucky a player has been (Batting Average on Balls In Play). In 60 plate appearances his BABIP is at 462 and the average player is around .300 with some players higher and some players lower. His career BABIP so far is .335, but that is still high and only 308 plate appearances.
Once his BABIP drops to average levels it’s likely Shaw will be hitting around .260 to .270 and have an OBP of .320 at best. Those aren’t great numbers but at 26 years of age he could still get better and increase his power output. The one thing that BABIP, K% and BB% can’t account for is power. If Shaw can start hitting more homers and extra base hits that is something that BABIP doesn’t include and would improve his average and OBP.
Last season Shaw hit 13 homers in 248 PA with a ISO of .217. That was an impressive output for him and better than what he had done so far in Triple-A. His projections only call for 14 homers for Shaw, but that includes a lot of what he showed at Triple-A. If his power develops and he hits more like he did last season then he could be the 20-25 home run hitter that makes him a great value at third base for the Red Sox.
The one thing we have no real idea on iOS how valuable is his defense. Before this season Shaw had 8 games at third base at the major league level and even now with 169.2 innings at the position his UZR and defensive metrics are much to small a sample to be trusted. The interesting thing is he’s looked really good and the numbers agree so far. Actually they say he’s been a gold glove level defender with a UZR/150 of 40.6 this season. To put that in perspective the best third baseman last season was Adrian Beltre with a UZR of 11.8.
If his defense can be not only average, but perhaps above average the Red Sox might have made a great choice to play Shaw at third base. His bat and glove together should look like at least an above average player if not a chance in his prime years to be a 3-4 WAR player. That said his contact issues could cause problems and make him susceptible to good pitching and struggle to maintain a solid batting average or OBP. The good news is with a great start he’s got a chance to settle into th position and not face huge pressure from struggling early in the season. Top that off with a long DL stint for Sandoval and Shaw can just play the game and not worry about his spot for now.