Shelley Duncan doesn’t do anything overly well. He looks like a big goof when he’s running the bases, or making brilliant plays in left (that night in Texas shall live forever!) or mashing at the plate. But when you get down to it, he’s pretty darn good at playing baseball and a wonderful spectacle to watch.
The eldest son of pitching coach Dave Duncan has never been a superstar or a baseball wizard, that can be assured. Yet he has a World Series ring after spending 2009 with the New York Yankees. He launched eight home runs in 163 plate appearances in New York with a .374 wOBA in 2007.
When he came to Cleveland he got to see a bit more action, and in 2010 and 2011 he combined for 22 home runs in 506 plate appearances with a 113 OPS+ over those two years. He’s been getting better, too: his OPS+ hit 123 in 2011 and he was worth 0.9 fWAR in only half a season’s worth of playing time. He breaks out to be an average player at the worst—and the best part about Shelley Duncan is, that’s not the best part.
But there’s something about Duncan that’s just endearing. It’s that look he gets when he’s digging in on a pitcher, the same look a toddler gets when he’s putting blocks into their properly shaped holes. Or his all-elbows-and-knees, full tilt way of running down the bases, like a kid chasing an ice cream truck. There’s a joy to the way Shelley plays baseball, like the Indians’ little brother. He just looks like he should be catching a loving noogie from Choo after pulling a prank on him. He’s got a jack’o’lantern smile and a bad haircut, and he just so happens to be able to connect on a mistake pitch and deposit it some 400 feet away.
Duncan had a decent enough spring (he knocked five homers) despite his lackluster on-base percentage (.302). The seven walks and five strikeouts were the most heartening aspects of his batting line—part of that is the flukiness of spring training and he surely won’t walk more than strike out this season, but it could be that Shelley is comfortable now that he has a guaranteed spot in the lineup for the first time in his career. He’ll hit it if the pitchers leaves it out over the plate and he seems to have found some patience, so it will be exciting to see what he will do.
Shelley just loves baseball, and now he’s getting his dream fulfilled by playing in a wonderful baseball town that’s getting back into its team. A guy like Duncan who cherishes every moment and has boundless energy should be embraced in Cleveland. If he keeps hitting like he did the last couple years, maybe get that K/BB ratio back towards 2-to-1 instead of tickling 3-to-1, Duncan could be more than just a decent guy who was good enough to start in left field.
As we saw last year, there’s some magic left at Progressive Field, and Shelley could be a conduit for that energy. The Indians aren’t a flashy franchise and Duncan sure isn’t a flashy player, but maybe that’s why the pairing works so well.