Jared Shuster was a surprise addition to the Opening Day rotation after a Spring Training where “Shuise Control” seemed like it was going to be a thing. Unfortunately, he was largely horrible as a major league starter, and the Braves moved on early in the offseason, sending the former first-round pick to Chicago’s South Side in the Aaron Bummer deal.
Shuster was drafted as the 25th overall pick in the shortened 2020 MLB Draft. He hopped across two minor league levels in both 2021 and 2022 until an effective Spring Training in 2023 thrust him into Atlanta’s Opening Day rotation.
What were the expectations?
Shuster’s minor league track record didn’t necessarily signal success, or even promise, as far as a major league starting role. His best ERA estimator when he hit Double-A in 2021 was his 4.53 xFIP; after figuring out Double-A in 2022, he progressed to Triple-A, where he had a not-too-pleasant 5.62 FIP and 4.72 xFIP in 48 2⁄3 innings.
However, come Spring Training in 2023, Shuster flashed some increased velocity and lulled Grapefruit League lineups to sleep with his changeup. That resulted in a semi-dramatic moment in March when both Ian Anderson and Bryce Elder were optioned to the minors, with the implication that both Shuster and Dylan Dodd had made the Opening Day rotation (Dodd would be added to the roster in the season’s first week). A bit before Opening Day, Fangraphs nudged Shuster to a 45 FV and a baseline expectation of a fourth or fifth starter. Needless to say at this point, while sometimes Spring Training is a preview of things to come, it can also be a mirage... and that’s basically what happened as far as concerned Shuster (and Dodd).
Shuster made two starts for the Braves in April before being sent down. He then came back up in mid-May and hung around the rotation through much of June, before being sent down once again. He was then recalled twice more for spot starts down the stretch.
The pitching line was grisly: through 11 starts spanning 52 2⁄3 innings, Shuster compiled a 131 ERA-, 125 FIP-, and a grim 140 xFIP-. His SIERA was as bad as his xFIP. His xERA was slightly worse than his FIP. His DRA- (145) was his worst mark overall, and his cFIP (131) wasn’t much better. This was a perpetual, unadulterated struggle at the major league level.
Nor was the struggle one felt in aggregate, interrupted by success. Shuster’s major league stints were agonizing. In his first major league start, he failed to retire any of the first six batters he faced, issuing two bases-loaded walks before he recorded an out. He finished that game with a 1/5 K/BB ratio. In his next game, he limited things to just one-bases loaded walk in the first inning, and finished with a 4/4 K/BB ratio.
Things were better but nowhere near good in his second stint (95/110/131), and his two late-season spot starts were also terrible. In 11 starts, Shuster literally had one (one!) outing in which he had an xFIP- better than league average. By comparison, he had eight starts with an xFIP- of 120 or worse.
What went right?
Amazingly, Shuster somehow finished 2023 with positive fWAR — a big, spanking total of 0.1. The Braves also went “just” 5-6 in his starts, which is pretty impressive, but kind of par for the course for this team. (Honestly, I’m surprised it wasn’t higher.)
Beyond that, there’s little to really tease out as a positive. Shuster’s barrel rate allowed was league average-y, and his xwOBACON yielded was a tiny bit better than league average. His slider had a good xwOBA-against (but not as good as an average slider), and he didn’t really waste all too many pitches by throwing non-competitive balls. But I’m really struggling to find positives here.
The only unequivocally positive outing of Shuster’s was on May 21, and it was a really nice outing. He outdueled George Kirby by allowing just a solo homer and a walk in six innings, while striking out seven Mariners. After the homer knocked down a one-run lead in the second, he then kept the game tied in the third and made a one-run lead stand up for three more innings; the Braves ended up winning 3-2. Shuster ended that outing by striking out Julio Rodriguez with the tying run on third.
We didn’t see a lot of this from Shuster in 2023, but he did it sometimes — check out this gutsy, strong changeup on a full count to Thairo Estrada:
What went wrong?
If the above didn’t paint a picture, well, I think the main thing worth noting here is that Shuster’s profile doesn’t lend itself towards any obvious avenues for improvement. Shuster’s command was actually okay — sure, he could hit the edges more with his non-fastball, and his fastball was often paunch-high, but a large command improvement wouldn’t change much.
Look at this arsenal chart, and despair:
To be clear: this shows his “vaunted” changeup, which is somehow way slower than the average changeup, but also has less horizontal and vertical break than the average changeup. It’s not clear how this is even possible, but this is a huge problem for Shuster.
As far as specific struggles, probably the low point of Shuster’s season was not the start, but the end. With a chance to maybe lock down a few starts down the stretch or grab a mop-up role in the postseason, he was completely blasted by the Marlins, with two homers, a 2/2 K/BB ratio, and five runs charged to him (including four on homers) in just three innings of work. He allowed two homers and four runs before recording an out, as a flashback to when he went six batters without recording an out in his first-ever start five months prior. Even worse, his meltdown blew a three-run lead the Braves handed him before he even threw a pitch.
And, well, sometimes wacky stuff just happened to him: this was a silly triple, but it also came on a middle-middle 92 mph fastball to Nick Castellanos. Oy.
Also worth noting here is that Shuster was awful in Triple-A when he wasn’t up with the big club:
- MLB: 5.81 ERA, 5.38 FIP, 6.13 xFIP
- AAA: 5.01 FIP, 5.31 FIP, 5.63 xFIP
Per new White Sox General Manager Chris Getz’ recent statements, it looks like Shuster will have a lot of runway to fly his own destiny on Chicago’s South Side. Steamer has him as a fifth starter type (0.3 WAR in 108 innings), which would be an improvement over what he managed for the Braves, and also for the Stripers. For his sake, I hope he’s able to do something with his pitch mix, though I honestly have no idea what that would be. Still, he’s going to get a chance to figure it out.