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Where's the love for Shelley Duncan?

Where's the love for Shelley Duncan?
April 3, 2012
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With Opening Day just two days away the Indians have finally named Shelley Duncan as their starting left fielder to open up the 2012 season. Or have they?

Recent rumors have made it no secret that the Tribe is still looking at ways to upgrade the left field position through both the trade and free agent market. The biggest trade rumor this past week had the Tribe trading for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu before talks broke apart just 24 hours later.

While Abreu would have brought another experienced veteran to the team, the trade rumor left many Indians fans wondering how much of an upgrade the aging outfielder would even bring with him to Cleveland. Not to mention how much it would cost the Indians to do so as Abreu is due to make $9 million this year.

At this point, at the brink of the regular season, a better alternative is to just commit to Duncan in left field and see how he performs in a full big league season. While he may not make fans forget about Kenny Lofton or Manny Ramirez in the glory days of the 90s, the Tribe realistically does not have a better alternative for the left field job at this point.

The Abreu trade rumor got me thinking though, why has it taken the Indians so long to commit to Duncan as their left fielder? While he did finish spring training with a .161 average, Duncan led the Indians this spring in home runs (6) and RBI (19). Do they really believe the 38 year old Abreu, who went just 8-for-52 with no homers this spring would be a better option?

Even with good numbers in a limited role each of the past two seasons with the Tribe, Duncan has yet to be viewed as an everyday player. He’s the same player who won the International League MVP Award in 2009, the same player who slugged seven home runs and 23 RBI in the month of September last season, and the same player who hit two of those seven homers off American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner Justin Verlander.

Surprisingly, 2012 will likely be the first year Duncan will amass more than 250 at bats in a single season. His career high currently sits at 229 at bats coming back in 2010.

So if finally given a starting role, what is there to expect out of the Indians new left fielder?

To put things in a better perspective on why Duncan should be an everyday player, here are his stats over the past two seasons with the Tribe:

161 G,  452 AB,  .248 AVG,  58 R,  111 H,  27 2B,  22 HR,  83 RBI,  45 BB,  132 SO,  .321 OBP,  .452 SLG

Given that his stats just about total a full season in the big leagues, it’s hard not to like some of the numbers Duncan can potentially put up playing on an everyday basis. Duncan’s 83 RBI would have been the second best on the Tribe in 2011 and his 22 home runs would have been the team’s third best.

Having only two players in the lineup hit more than 20 home runs last season in Carlos Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera, the 32 year old outfielder could easily add another big power bat to the Indians offense in 2012.

Before signing first baseman Casey Kotchman earlier this offseason, the Indians were working on ways to bring free agent veteran Carlos Pena to Cleveland. The slugging first baseman instead ended up signing a 1 year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays worth $7.25 million.

To compare both Duncan and Pena, here are Pena’s stats last season with the Chicago Cubs:

153 G,  493 AB,  .225 AVG,  72 R,  111 H,  27 2B,  28 HR,  80 RBI,  101 BB,  161 SO,  .357 OBP,  .462 SLG

As fans can see, both Duncan and Pena could potentially post very similar numbers over the course of a full season. There are some differences between the two, the big difference being Pena’s ability to draw more walks and Duncan's higher average, more RBI, and less strikeouts. Also, Duncan is paid a considerable amount less than Pena as he made $500,000 last season and will make around that amount this season.

Based just solely on offensive statistics, there’s no question Duncan should have been handed the left field position weeks ago.

As far as outfield defense is concerned though, Tribe fans already know Duncan is not going to be one of the team’s best. While he does lack speed, he has actually been successful when given the chance to play the outfield. In 72 career starts in left field, Duncan has committed just one error for a fielding percentage of .993.

The bottom line in terms of Duncan and potential deals is this: If the Indians want to save money and not get burned like they did with Grady Sizemore earlier this offseason, they should not trade or sign an aging veteran like Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero, or Magglio Ordonez to fill the left field position.

Duncan without question deserves the chance to play every day in 2012, and given what he can potentially do when given that chance, he could finally prove to both the Indians organization and fans what he’s all about.

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at

User Comments

April 4, 2012 - 2:18 PM EDT
tony, thanks for the reply, u make some good points. i just heard from pretty much every fan i talked to or sat next to during the games how much they are rooting for duncan. trust me, i bleed indians baseball, so no one would be more happy to say i was wrong than me if duncan can have a successful season. i understand the NRI part of his nostalgia, just its so hard for me to digest the fact that his numbers were in the same facet of laporta's yet laporta is on the outs but duncan had one good month (september) and the entire fanbase is backing him. hey just have a good season shelley and i wont mind being wrong!
April 4, 2012 - 12:04 PM EDT
Jeter, such is the reality of being a guy that is an NRI signing with minimal expectations (Duncan) and a high profile prospect acquired as the centerpiece in a deal for a Cy Young award winner (LaPorta). Because of that neither will ever be fairly evaluated. That being said, Duncan has still outperformed LaPorta considerably the last two years. Just more productive. I dont think it is time to give up on LaPorta, but this is a HUGE year for him. If he still struggles, then his days in the org are numbered as he will be out of options next year and I see no way you can bank on him as being on the team to start next season (if he struggles this year).
April 4, 2012 - 11:39 AM EDT
the love is that he had pretty much the same numbers as laporta last year yet laporta is doubtful to be with the organization in 12 months yet shelley duncan is the next joe dimaggio. Seriously? pretty much every fan i talked to at spring training was a huge fan of shelly duncan. i mean he had a wonderful spring after all, hitting .181, what is the love affair with shelly duncan? he'll be bagging groceries by seasons end...
April 4, 2012 - 10:53 AM EDT
I think the most pertinent question is: if not Duncan, who else? Cunningham? Ezequiel (play CF, and Brantley plays LF)? Spilborghs?

The Indians made a play for Beltran, they didn't get him and there was nobody else out there that could substantially outperform what the Indians already had. Will Duncan look foolish against some Starting Pitching? Yes. Will he knock around some average lefties? Also, yes.

The combination of he and Brantley in LF/CF is without a doubt that best the Indians had (realistically) available to them to start the year. Now let's see which one of the old adages is going to hold true for Duncan: is he a 4th OF, or is he going to benefit from playing everyday? Only time will tell.
April 4, 2012 - 8:16 AM EDT
Barry, interesting stats.

I don't think Duncan can be fairly evaluated without discussing his splits. Traditionally, he has been viewed as a superior hitter against LHPs, and so-so against RHPs. And it's problematic to extrapolate part-time stats when he has been employed largely as a situational hitter.

Last year, however, Duncan, for the first time, hit RHPs well. So well in fact, that his OPS was .918 against same-handed pitchers. Unfortunately, this was offset by a disappointing season against opposite-handed pitchers, with just a .679 OPS.

If he can maintain his new-found proficiency against RHPs and rebound against LHPs, then he should do well enough. He need only hit around .250-.260 overall, as he typically generates a decent amount of walks and can be expected to generate an ISO of around .200-.225. That should result in an overall OPS of around .800.
April 4, 2012 - 5:41 AM EDT
the indians *don't* want to play duncan every day. a quick look at his stats last season makes it obvious:

.222 average against starting pitching
.380 against relievers

starters have at least 3 pitches, relievers usually less, and one of them is going to be a fastball.

.377 against *power* pitchers (upper 1/3 in strikeouts)
.283 against fly ball pitchers (upper 1/3 in inducing flyballs)
.235 against groundball pitchers. (upper 1/3 in inducing grounders)

put duncan in the lineup against pitchers that get people out on fly balls, strikeout pitchers. bench him for sinkeball/junkball starters, but consider pinch hitting him when a reliever comes into the game.
April 3, 2012 - 7:58 PM EDT
Indians continue to press part time role players into larger roles. They tried it with Jason Micheals and it didn't work. They wanted to press Dellucci and never really had the chance. They put a guy in low leverage relief like Laffey or Jamie Wright and they push him into higher leverage when he does well only to find out that it was a mistake.

Duncan is best in a HEAVY utility role. Not a bench player/pinch hitter. I'd certainly be against any PT that got him more than 350 PAs.

April 3, 2012 - 7:26 PM EDT
Agree. Let him play every day. If he hits one 2-run HR and two sac flies a week he's a 100 RBI guy.

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