The Value of Dunc-A-Dunc

My fiancée might be Shelley Duncan’s biggest fan.  Every time he comes to bat, we must stop what we’re doing, and watch silently to the end of the plate appearance.  All it takes is one mention of the sobriquet “Dunc-a-Dunc” and she lights up like 12 year old at a Justin Bieber concert.

I’m not quite sure about the roots of this obsession, and I have more than once asked her whether I should take her fawning description of his canine facial features as something I should be worried about.  After all, if Shelley Duncan approximates her definition of “handsome”, my self-esteem tends go in the toilet.

Further, she might be the only person who is legitimately disappointed when Shelley is not in the starting lineup: “Can’t Dunc-a-Dunc play third base?  I’m tired of watching Jayson Nix!”

“No,” I answer.  “I’m tired of Nix too, but Dunc-a-Dunc can decidedly not play third base.”

She scowls, and returns to her book. “Well he probably could if they’d let him try it.”

While I’m going to stand by my guns on the third base thing, I do believe Duncan is valuable enough to the 2011 Indians to merit a roster spot.  First though, let’s make sure we’re all clear on things that Shelley Duncan can’t do.  Despite the potential for a minor skirmish on the homefront, he can’t play third base.  He also can’t really play in the outfield—at least not very well.  Which means that when he does play in the OF, there probably should be a pretty compelling offensive reason.  Finally, he can’t be an everyday player.  He just has too many weaknesses that could be exploited over the course of a 162-game season.

Let’s talk about what he’s good at though.  Here are the 2010 Indians, ranked by OPS (min 70 PA):

Name OPS
Shin-Soo Choo 0.885
Carlos Santana 0.868
Travis Hafner 0.824
Russell Branyan 0.819
Austin Kearns 0.772
Shelley Duncan 0.736
Jayson Nix 0.705
Jhonny Peralta 0.698
Jason Donald 0.690
Andy Marte 0.680
Asdrubal Cabrera 0.673
Matt LaPorta 0.668
Trevor Crowe 0.634
Michael Brantley 0.623
Mark Grudzielanek 0.600
Jordan Brown 0.582
Lou Marson 0.560
Grady Sizemore 0.560
Luis Valbuena 0.531

Duncan is not really near the top of that list, and a .736 OPS is even worse when you consider that he doesn’t bring any defensive value to the table.

But now look at this table.  Is this something you might be interested in?

Name OPS
Shelley Duncan 0.857
Jason Donald 0.833
Lou Marson 0.759
Jhonny Peralta 0.720
Austin Kearns 0.720
Travis Hafner 0.706
Shin-Soo Choo 0.670
Asdrubal Cabrera 0.647
Matt LaPorta 0.635
Trevor Crowe 0.490
Michael Brantley 0.467

Looks good for Dunc-a-Dunc, no (and Jason Donald and Lou Marson)?  What is this table representing, some odd archaic split of performance on Tuesday’s during a lunar eclipse?  Nope.  That’s each player’s 2010 OPS against LHP.  Believe it or not, Shelley Duncan really raked against LHP last season.

To get a feel for whether this was a blip or something sustainable, let’s look at Shelley’s career against southpaws.  Since he broke into the majors in 2007, Shelley has put up a .262/.335/.488 line against lefties, good for an .823 OPS.  His walk-rate is over 10% and his ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average—an indicator of power) is higher than Shin-Soo Choo’s and Travis Hafner’s.

In other words, against LHP Dunc-a-Dunc is actually good.  He gets on base and hits for power—exactly what you’d want.

Couple his prowess against lefties with the dearth of other options the Indians have for 2011 against left handed pitching, and you start to see a real need for Duncan’s presence on the roster.  Of all the additions to the squad this off-season, Orlando Cabrera is the only right-handed hitter, and no matter what hand the pitcher throws with, he’s not going to hit much.  We sure believe that Carlos Santana will improve against lefties, and we sure hope that LaPorta will, but that still leaves a huge portion of the roster that struggles against lefties.

Look at the left-handed hitters we currently have, and their career OPS against LHP:

Player OPS
Nick Johnson 0.854
Travis Hafner 0.823
Travis Buck 0.748
Shin-Soo Choo 0.736
Grady Sizemore 0.700
Michael Brantley 0.646

No player on this list has a higher career OPS against lefties than Shelley Duncan had last season.  While Nick Johnson appears to be able to hit lefties—his career suggests almost no platoon split whatsoever—Travis Hafner’s .823 line is highly inflated by his pre-2008 downfall.  Since that season, his highest line against lefties is .706.  Not so good.

So yes, Dunc-a-Dunc should be given a spot on this team.  In a perfect world, I think he could platoon with Hafner at DH, and serve as a right-handed bat off the bench for pinch hitting appearances against lefty-specialists.

Is he the sexiest choice to make the roster?  Probably not, unless you talk to my fiancée.  But for a team that is still so heavy on left-handed bats, we might just need to make room for him.

  • Scott

    Is this where I bring up Victor Martinez’ career OPS against LHP….Again?

  • Mike R

    With Sizemore and Crowe starting the season on the DL I would think Duncan has to be the favorite to be the Opening Day 4th outfielder. Do you think it’s likely they would also use a roster spot on Travis Buck or another OF capable of playing Center or Right? Duncan and Buck provide back-ups at all three OF spots, 1st, and DH (and 3rd according to one visionary).

  • Tommy

    I will be very upset if Duncan isn’t on the opening day 25 man.

    Also Jon, if you watching Indians baseball with your fiancee while she reads a book is a common occurrence, we have a lot in common. Only the protests that I usually hear are why Choo is the best player in all facets of the game… much easier to agree with than the Duncan thing.

    Congrats on the engagement.

  • Jon

    @ Scott: I know not that of which you speak. Victor, you say? I’ll have to look that up.

    @ Mike R: I’d say Duncan and Buck are probably the two likeliest backup OF to make the team. The only reason this is true, though, is because Trevor Crowe is hurt, and that seems wrong to me. Oh well, small blessings.

    @ Tommy: Thanks man. Back atcha.

  • Karsten

    You call him Dunc-a-dunc, my girlfriend and I call him Turtle. So every time he comes up we shout “TURTLE POWER!” I’m sorry but that’s what he looks like… He’s even in a half-shell if you consider his helmet. We were at the spring training game today so we restrained ourselves for fear of making Dunc-a-dunc/Turtle power get all sad-panda. But we wanted to. And yes, I like him for a spot on the roster as well. He’s also great to have in a fist fight when we get to rumblin’ with other teams.