When the Milwaukee Brewers pulled off the trade for Mike Moustakas on July 27, Travis Shaw was asked to employ an old sports adage.
Namely, take one for the team.
So Shaw did just that.
He slid from third base – his regular position since the Brewers traded for him in the 2016 off-season – over to second base in order to accommodate Moustakas, a more accomplished and natural performer at the hot corner.
And so far, the results have been better than the Brewers probably could have realistically expected.
Despite having never played an inning there at any level, Shaw has more than held his own at second. He has committed just one error in 36 starts there beginning the day Moustakas joined the team July 27, turning what could have been a sticky situation into a positive one.
“It speaks volumes to the kind of player and person he is, to be able to just let me come over here and play third and not make too big a deal about going to second,” Moustakas said. “His production hasn’t gone down; he’s still hitting and playing great defense.
“And with all the extra work he’s had to do, that says a lot about him.”
Shaw had seen his star dim with the Boston Red Sox when they sent him along with three minor-leaguers to the Brewers on Dec. 6, 2016, in exchange for right-hander Tyler Thornburg, but he took advantage of the opportunity to play every day with Milwaukee.
Plugged in at third base from Day 1 of the 2017 season, Shaw went on to post offensive career highs across the board – a .273 batting average, 31 home runs, 101 runs batted in and an OPS of .862 in 144 games – while also proving to be a slightly-above-average defender.
Shaw was doing much the same into the second half of this season when the Brewers, having rapidly shifted from rebuilding into competitive mode, started making moves to bolster themselves for the stretch run.
Right-handed reliever Joakim Soria was brought in to start the cavalcade of moves, then a day later it was Moustakas who was added.
The possibility that Moustakas could play some second base was broached right after the trade. Then things became even more convoluted when the Brewers added another second baseman, Jonathan Schoop, before the trading deadline on July 31.
Moustakas settled in as the regular third baseman, where he’s performed pretty much as expected. Second base, meanwhile, has been left largely to Shaw, with Schoop (.202/4/21/.577 in 46 games with the Brewers) usually playing on the days Milwaukee is facing left-handed starters.
The 28-year-old Shaw cuts a very unusual figure up the middle by checking in at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, measurements that are perfect for a first baseman and acceptable for a third baseman.
But he put up a .992 fielding percentage in 268 innings at second base despite his size and he accounted for one run saved overall, a metric that rated him essentially slightly better than the league average.
“I haven’t really messed anything up. That’s kind of where I stand on it,” Shaw said when asked to assess his performance defensively. “My range has been challenged at times; it’s probably not as good as most second basemen. But we knew that going in.
“For me, it was just make every play that was hit to me. Every ball I could get to, just make that play, and I’ve done that. I’ve made one error at second. Double plays, do your best to try to turn it. I’ve turned some, some guys have been safe.
“But I’m doing the best that I can over there, and my whole stand on it is I haven’t really messed anything up.”
Manager Craig Counsell has had nothing but praise for how Shaw has handled himself since Moustakas came aboard.
“Travis has basically, through his play, proven to me and to us that he can do it and he can succeed at it and be good at it. So from our end, that’s made it easier,” he said. “We asked Travis to do a lot when we asked him to move to second base. Sometimes you make a move and you’re not exactly sure how it’s going to play out.
“In this case it played out to where we’ve used Travis at second base largely and kept Moose at third and it’s worked out well, I think.”
Shaw started all three games at second base as the Brewers swept the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series, including Game 2 when the Rockies threw left-hander Tyler Anderson.
The Brewers are going to see quite a few more left-handers from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series beginning Friday with Clayton Kershaw.
Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill are also expected to start once the series shifts to Dodger Stadium, meaning Shaw could see his playing time curtailed in favor of the right-handed-hitting Schoop.
It’s nothing new for Shaw, who hit .209/2/12 against lefties during the regular season.
“They have a very left-handed rotation and it means you’re going to see different lineups regularly, is what I would tell you,” Counsell said. “There’ll be more guys in the starting lineup. We think we have the players for it.”
Just as he was with the switch to second base, Shaw is on board with however Counsell and his coaching staff wants to approach it. One factor potentially working in his favor is his .364 average through the first round of the playoffs.
“All I can do is be ready to go whenever that opportunity comes,” said Shaw, who hit .241 with a career-best 32 homers to go with 86 RBI in the regular season.
“I had a pretty good series against Colorado so I’m a pretty good spot now offensively. However they see the matching fitting or they want to do it is out of my control; I just wait and see the lineup card.
“But I’ll be ready to go whenever.”