San Francisco Giants: Chris Shaw Showing Quick and Marked Improvement

SF Giants (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
SF Giants (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images) /

After a miserable start to his big league career, San Francisco Giants’ outfielder Chris Shaw has drastically improved recently.

Chris Shaw’s first few games in the big leagues with the San Francisco Giants were a case study in being overmatched. Pitchers established a formula to get him out, and he rarely deviated. They fed the big, strong left-handed hitter a steady diet of fastballs above the hands and breaking balls below the zone, and Shaw took the bait.

In his first six games at the highest level, Shaw struck out 10 times in 15 plate appearances. Five of those strikeouts were on fastballs up, while the other five were on sliders or curveballs below the zone. Four times, Shaw was struck out on three pitches. In another five at-bats, Shaw saw only four pitches. Most of his early at-bats were over in the blink of an eye, with Shaw heading back to the dugout after swinging through another one.

Shaw had one hit in those first few games, and it was a brief glimpse at what he can bring to the table. On September 3rd in his fourth game, Shaw was called upon as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of a tie game. He fell behind 0-2, but when Rockies’ pitcher Seunghwan Oh hung a slider, Shaw crushed it for a 468-foot home run, the longest by a Giant this season.

Given his minor league track record, that kind of performance wasn’t too surprising. In AAA Sacramento this year, Shaw struck out 144 times in 422 plate appearances, a rate of 34.1%. When he did make contact, it usually went a pretty long way. He hit 24 home runs for the second straight minor league season, the most in the Giants’ organization.

After that initial stretch of games, the improvement came rather quickly. Shaw spent some time out of the starting lineup and working with the hitting coaches, and they started to figure things out. Shaw began to look more comfortable, though most of his at-bats in the immediate aftermath didn’t result in hits. He was able to lay off those kill pitches more often and make more contact.

In Shaw’s next 10 plate appearances, he struck out three times, a notable drop from the 66.7% rate he posted in his first six games. Though none of those balls in play found grass, he drew the first two walks of his big league career.

Then the floodgates opened and the hits came. In his first at-bat on Sunday, Shaw muscled a bloop hit into center field to finally get his second career hit. His next time up, he shot a 107-mph line drive through the right side of a shifted infield to drive in a run. Monday was even better, as he followed up his first multi-hit game with his first three-hit day.

More from Golden Gate Sports

Shaw beat the shift in his first two at-bats, hitting a single toward where the shortstop normally plays, then lacing a double down the left-field line the next time up. He finished his day with his first career hit against a left-handed pitcher, crushing a Brad Wieck offering into right field. His hit on Tuesday was the game-winner, a bloop single to left that scored a pair of runs to reverse a one-run deficit.

In the first six games, Shaw chased 71.8% of pitches he saw outside of the strikezone. He swung and missed at 39.2% of all pitches he saw. Those numbers have both been improved upon, leading to this jump in production. Over the past eight games, Shaw is chasing around 30% of the time, and swinging and missing about 16% of the time. Both numbers that leave room for improvement, but both numbers that provide hope for the future.

Shaw’s also been more aggressive, finding a balance between being patient and jumping on pitches early in the count. Of his six hits in the past three games, three have come on the first pitch of an at-bat. He ambushed a fastball each time, including for his game-winning hit on Tuesday. Two of his other hits came in a full count, with his second double on Monday coming off a 3-2 slider.

Next. Minor League Pitches of the Year. dark

There figures to be two open spots in the outfield next season, and Shaw will certainly be among the competitors to take one of the jobs. Though there are still kinks to work out, Shaw has shown a lot of improvement in a very short amount of time. If he can continue to make strides, he could make a compelling case to get a lot of playing time in left field in 2019.