Don’t laugh. The Angels fourth outfielder who going into spring training had to earn himself a spot on the bench might earn some votes this year when the American League Rookie of the Year ballots get sent out.
As Alden Gonzalez from MLB.com noted a few days ago, enter Saturday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, J.B. Shuck ranked first among AL rookies in hits (79), doubles (14) and triples (three). He also was second in runs (36), third in total bases (102), and fourth in batting average (.289) and on-base percentage (.333) amongst all AL rookies.
Not bad for a kid from Ohio who the Angels picked up as a free agent after being released by the Houston Astros.
While Shuck doesn’t flash plus power or even lightning speed (only 4 stolen bases), he’s found success in being able to put the bat on the ball. Shuck is sporting a 96.5% contact rate on balls thrown within the strike-zone, good for sixth in the entire majors for players with 300 or more plate appearances. And it’s not just luck that’s getting Shuck on-base. His BaBIP hovers around league average at .316. That’s a good sign for the Angels and Shuck’s future that perhaps the young outfielders success is something he can sustain.
While Shuck has been one of the few bright spots for the Los Angeles Angels this season, has he done enough to win a Rookie of the Year award? Maybe not.
The field of rookie candidates for American League is thin this year. With the favorite being Wil Myers of the Tampa Bay Rays who posting a .318/.368/.497 batting line with 8 home runs. But Myers may not have enough plate appearances to warrant the award with just 193 plate appearances this season while Shuck has over 300.
Another likely candidate is infielder Jose Iglesias. When the young Cuban shortstop was called up by the Boston Red Sox, he was known primarily for his defense but he’s shown some bat skills as well posting a .321/.366/.401. The question with Iglesias is whether he can maintain it and all signs point that he will not. In the last 28 days, Iglesias is sporting just a .480 OPS. A likely sign of things to come. Other candidates include Leonys Martin of the Texas Rangers (.280/.328/.408) or Rays pitcher Chris Archer whose allowed just 64 hits in 81 1/3 innings and has a solid 3.10 ERA in 14 starts.
None of these rookies are running away with the award, though, leaving J.B. Shuck a dark-horse candidate. And what none of these players have that Shuck has on his resume is this:
Just call it “the catch.”
If we take into consideration wins above replacement (WAR), Shuck is behind the pack. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference have Shuck at basically replacement level mainly due to his poor rating in advanced defensive metrics despite the noted “the catch.” And Shuck might lose valuable playing time with the imminent return of Peter Bourjos, just at the time that voters are starter to think about these awards.
Yet if we learned anything from the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP debate last year, those voting for these awards seem to be not be the biggest fans of sabermetrics stats like WAR. Which, if the case, only strengthens J.B Shuck’s case for winning the award.