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Chris Shaw has been the Giants’ September Surprise

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A dearth of top level prospects and a logjam on the 40-man roster nearly conspired to deprive the team of something to look forward to, but Chris Shaw has saved the day.

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San Francisco Giants v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

The Giants’ self-imposed dire financial straits and questionable management of their 40-man roster suggested we might not see many September call-ups this season and even fewer “young” prospects who might provide us with a surprise or two. Thanks to an unprecedented number of injuries and the Andrew McCutchen trade at the end of August, the Giants found themselves with just enough flexibility to get Chris Shaw onto the roster.

This is important because without Chris Shaw, the Giants would have literally nothing going for them in the final month of the season.

Now, maybe you want to argue that the emergence of Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez means that this final month should be a victory lap of sorts (for them and the organization) and that watching them sustain their success could feel as good or better than watching a rookie do some nice things against other team’s prospects and tired veterans. That argument ignores the state of the Giants and what Chris Shaw represents.

Chris Shaw is their top and only power prospect who was anywhere close to contributing at the major league level. The only other “power prospect” in the entire system is Joey Bart. The Giants have added some interesting international players with power potential, but they’re under 18 years old and not likely to contribute anytime soon. The Giants have been one of the worst teams in Baseball and franchise history from a power perspective. They can’t hit home runs, they don’t want to hit home runs, and they don’t know how to hit home runs. Literally —

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Bochy said. “Especially in hitter’s ballparks. Coors, Cincinnati. I can’t make sense of it, to be honest. It really surprises me. In these parks, we just got shut down.

That comes from a recent article by Andrew Baggarly for The Athletic (subscription required) about how the Giants are terrible against the fastball and the changeup — the team’s collective bat speed is just too slow for modern baseball.

Chris Shaw has hit 24 home runs in each of his last two minor league seasons, respectable totals but not eye-popping (Joey Gallo hit 40 in 2013 and 42 in 2014, for example), yet still solidly above average enough to grant him that power distinction and #4 overall ranking in the Giants’ minor league system (per MLB Pipeline, which also grades his power as a 60).

It’s really easy to see why he’s rated so highly in the power department:

He was the most exciting player available for the Giants to call up and after a verrrrry rocky start he’s come back to reclaim that label. Shaw has seven hits in his last four games, raising his batting average from .045 to .229, on base percentage from .120 to .300 and slugging from .302 to .371. That’s just 40 plate appearances over 15 games (10 starts) — many players could put up similar numbers and do it all the time, but that’s a strong recovery for him.

Shaw didn’t see more than 3 pitches in his first nine plate appearances and didn’t see at least 5 pitches until his eleventh plate appearance. Unsurprisingly, he had 10 strikeouts through his first 15 plate appearances. He drew his first walk on his sixteenth plate appearance, but that mini streak I just mentioned wouldn’t happen for another nine plate appearances (scattered over five games because of inconsistent playing time).

All of that falls very much in line with the prediction of SB Nation’s John Sickels of Minor League Ball:

If I had to guess, I’d say he strikes out in 40% of his at-bats but also hits a couple of home runs.

Say, he goes 6-for-31 with two homers and 12 strikeouts.

Right now, Shaw has 16 strikeouts in 40 plate appearances (40%) and is 8-for-35. Only one home run, but let’s see what happens with more playing time.

In the meantime, let’s take a moment to accept that the Giants called up a power prospect and he’s shown both that power potential and the ability to make a quick adjustment. He simply looked over matched for the first 25% of those plate appearances. It’s clear that he’s going to be a rough hang, but these final nine games might still be very much worth watching because of his presence in the lineup.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Roger’s wisdom here:

Roger has seen it all, particularly where the Giants are concerned, and I think it’s generally a good rule of thumb with all things baseball not to get too low or high about a prospect or small sample size performances. On the other hand, for most of our lives, we didn’t have Statcast data available to us and now we do. And just from that data, the excitement about Shaw remains warranted.

His 109.7 mph single off of Robert Stock in Wednesday night’s game isn’t the top exit velocity of the season (Mac Williamson is still #1 with his 114.2 mph home run off of Andrew Heaney back on 4-20), but he’s holding his own just fine on the averages. Here’s the Giants’ top 10 average exit velocity (combining all four batted ball types: Fly Ball, Line Drive, Ground Ball, Pop Up):

What could’ve been with Ryder Jones. He and Shaw would’ve been an interesting duo, maybe either of them flanking Evan Longoria. Alas...

Now, it makes sense that exit velocities on pop up and ground balls are lower, so if we just keep it to Fly Balls and Line Drives, we see that when he puts the ball in the air, Chris Shaw still does very well for himself:

Chris Shaw isn’t the most exciting prospect in baseball and, of course, the Giants have had far more exciting prospects come through the organization in recent history, but he is a prospect of theirs who’s actually worth the general excitement of September call-ups and with one week to go, he’s fun to watch and dream on.