J.B. Shuck is Making the Most of His Opportunity

When Peter Bourjos went down with a strained hamstring on April 30th, he was sporting a nifty .313/.370/.458 slash line. Even as one of Gorgeous Bourjos’ staunchest supporters, I was incredibly surprised by his production to start the season. Even I don’t think he’s a .300 hitter. But, hey, who’s complaining, right? Even better still, was his slash line when leading off a game. The decision by Mike Scioscia to move Mike Trout out of the leadoff spot and place Bourjos there was viewed as a panic move in an attempt to jump start a struggling offense. How has Peter fared when stepping up to the plate as the first Angels hitter of a game? by hitting .385/.467/.615, that’s how. He’s exceeded everyone’s expectations this season, even my own. So when he went down with his hamstring injury, my first reaction was: (HEUNE*(FH#F(#H(F*H OMG WTF!!!!!!!!!! My second reaction was: “Great, now we get to see J.B. Shuck be a starter for an extended period of time. YAY!”

For those who don’t know, Shuck wasn’t able to lock down a starting job with the Houston Astros. Yeah, those Astros. So, obviously, expectations were ankle high. Bourjos was going to be filled-in for by a fringy, fifth-outfielder-at-best, zero power J.B. Shuck. This could only end terribly. Except, it hasn’t. And J.B. Shuck now has a contingent of Angels fans saying: “Who the Shuck is this guy?” Right? No? I’ll see myself out.

So far, Shuck’s 0.2 WAR is roughly 0.2 higher then I had hoped it would be. And his slash line of .315/.361/.393 is about *Holds hand above head* that much higher than I what I expected it to be. So, what gives, right? He’s a lefty so, he has to be torching right-handed pitching. That’s the only obvious explanation, right? Nope. He’s actually hitting a very pedestrian .270/.313/.351 against righties. But that would mean that he is hitting lefties well, and that would be absurd, because, well, he’s a lefty. Lefties don’t hit lefties well, that’s the natural order of life, it fits right in line with paying taxes and dying. Well, how about you see for yourself…

Split G PA AB H BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
vs LHP as LHB 11 19 15 8 2 1 .533 .588 .600 1.188 .571 216 264
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/28/2013.


What in the what? I agree that it is only 19 plate appearances, but those 19 trips to the plate account for 19% of his plate appearances this season. So even though, yes, it is a small sample size, it's still a good size chunk of his season up to this point. It's not sustainable, at least, it can't be. Or maybe it can. His "career" slash line against left handed pitching sits at .500/.536/.538 over 30 plate appearances. And for career totals, there's no one even close to that many plate appearances with that slash line (At least, as far as left-handed hitters against lef-handed pitchers goes). The next closest is Ryan Radmanovich who hit .556/.556/.889 against lefties in nine career plate appearances against southpaws.

It's not like this hasn't been done before, though. Barry Bonds carried a .600/.600/1.200 slash line against lefties in five plate appearances in 2005. Terry Francona had a .667/.667/.667 slash line against lefties in nine plate appearances in 1981. But for this sample size, only two other players are in the ball park with Shuck. Cue the table.

Rk Player Split Year G HR PA ▾ PAtot AB R H RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+
1 J.B. Shuck vs LHP as LHB 2013 11 0 19 100 15 8 7 2 1 .533 .588 .600 1.188 .571 216 264
2 Jacob Cruz vs LHP as LHB 1999 10 1 16 96 13 8 5 2 1 .615 .688 .846 1.534 .636 252 314
3 Rube Walker vs LHP as LHB 1951 8 1 14 200 12 7 2 2 2 .583 .643 .917 1.560 .667 373 358
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/28/2013.


Do you know who Rube Walker and Jacob Cruz are? Yeah, neither does anyone else. And what does J.B. Shuck have to say about his performance so far?

"You get into a different type of rhythm than being on the bench," Shuck said. "It has helped me get into my swing and getting some at bats has helped me get comfortable at the plate. via MLB.com"

Enlightening.

Don't be confused with the J.B. Shuck you are seeing this month, with the J.B. Shuck you would see if he got 500-600 at bats. Shuck is not a .300+ hitter in the major leagues. This is simply a case of "making the most of an opportunity," and that's exactly what Shuck has done so far. And we, as fans, are the benefactors of that production because he has played a rather prominent role during the Angels most recent winning streak. And with Peter Bourjos intensifying his workouts, it is more than likely that Shuck will be back to his natural position of bench warmer by the middle of June. And I know what you're thinking, "Aw Shucks," right? No? OK, I'll stop. But it shouldn't be taken for granted how much he has meant to this team during the last month. He's not the star of this team, but neither was Orlando Palmeiro, and he proved to be pretty valuable as a backup once upon a time.

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