In the bottom of the second inning on Friday, Travis Shaw doubled off Kansas City Royals’ starter Johnny Cueto to right on a line drive. The Boston Red Sox’ new first baseman would be driven in by Blake Swihart two hitters later. Shaw was followed quickly across home plate by Rusney Castillo after an error by Alcides Escobar. The score stood at 2-0. Before the inning ended, Mookie Betts would drive in Swihart to give Henry Owens a nice 3-0 lead.
Moments like these, again, instill some drunken sense of hope for my beloved Sox moving forward. I really don’t think we’ll see some miraculous return to a long playoff run in 2016, but I do see a nice core of young position players coming into their own, yet together. Think about it, that half inning’s three runs were all produced by players 25 or younger aside from Castillo and he’s also new to the club. His rookie status remains intact through the end of the season; he’s only amassed 191 career PA’s before Friday night’s game. If only I had that simmeringly just-above-neutral outlook for Sox pitching, good gods they suck.
In just his first 25 major league games, Shaw has produced 1.6 WAR (what the sh*t?!?), good for seventh best on the team for the season. Mookie Magic, who has six times as many PAs, leads the team with 4.1 WAR. So, in a very simple extrapolation, Shaw could be producing at a 9.6 WAR clip. That’s insane, possibly Trout-ian. In a similar sample size projection from ZiPS (24 games/99 PAs) before the season, Dan Szymborski saw Shaw producing 1.5 WAR – excellent work, Dan! – with a 94 wRC+. Shaw is sinking Dan’s battleship with a 205 wRC+. In other words, 32 points higher in wRC+ than Mike Trout. I know that’s an impossible comparison to make, so quit banning me from the next SABR convention. It’s fun, specially when your team should be on the barge that takes the trash to the landfill, to imagine that your new first baseman might just be a total masher. Has a minor deity of hitting prowess arrived in time to become the new anchor of the lineup for the next 12 years? I certainly hope so.
Then again, my conviction sunk a little bit when I looked up his prospect rankings. According MLB.com’s prospect pipeline rankings, Shaw is the 28th-ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization. That’s not 28th in all of baseball; Shaw didn’t even make Baseball America’s 2015 Top 100. They ranked him as the Sox’ 19th best prospect. Projection is not my specialty, being a knowledgeable smart ass is. With that said, I’d still be very happy with a full season of 80% of his current slash line, .382/.427/.691. At that rate, he’d still put up an OPS of .893. As a point of reference, that is exactly 200 points higher than the guy he replaced in Mike Napoli. Don’t get me wrong, I will forever love Nap – particularly the drunk and shirtless one-beard parade through Boston after the 2013 World Series win – he’s just aging and declining faster than anticipated.
Again, back to Shaw. The analysis in the following clip actually makes me think that, even after some regression that’s due to come for Shaw, we might be seeing the real deal.
Whatever the future holds, it sure is fun to watch these young guys come up and have a positive effect on a dismal season. So, in closing, I would like to address David Dombrowski directly (in my delusional state imagining he’s actually listening). Dear Mr. Dombrowski, please don’t be foolish enough to clean out the farm for glitzy, shiny and overpriced veterans. You have a strong, young core solidifying before your eyes in Swihart, Bogaerts, Betts, Shaw, Holt, Castillo, Rodriguez, and Owens. Don’t screw this up.