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):
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?
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:
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.