J.B. Shuck was sent down to the minors today in a major shakeup. Some will cheer, some will jeer...
He is gritty. He is not your typical jock. He doesn't have that giant frame or grace going about the field. He has to hustle on every play to get what some guys just have naturally but he never slacks off while so many of the more naturally talented athletes among him have developed bad habits from having it all come so easily. In a way he is closer to the average fan in the stands than he is to the jocks in the clubhouse.
He is J.B. Shuck and with an intro like that you might assume that he is the most beloved Angel since David Eckstein, whose "everyman" persona was embraced by the fanbase of Anaheim.
Well you would be wrong. Look at your calendar. It is not 1984. It is 2014. Players today can be judged by what we see on the field as they always have been, but they can also be judged by their statistical accomplishments. Back in the day there were rudimentary stats - batting average, RBIs, and they told a narrow story of what a ballplayer had done. Newer stats have been developed that give us a more complete picture of what each player contributes to the team.
The portrait of J.B. Shuck painted by these new stats is not flattering. J.B. Shuck might have had two hits and one RBI in last night's game but they were only the 13th and 14th hits and 9th Run Batted In of the season for him in 84 Plate Appearances. Add in his two walks this season and his numbers add up... well they almost come close to subtracting. his OPS+ for 2014 so far is 26. That is a negative representation. Last year his OPS+ was 97. 100 is league average. So he was almost league average in 478 PA last year. In 20% of that much playing time he is, statistically, about one-fourth as good as he was last year, when he was almost ordinary.
So all of that effort, that hustle, that determination of his, all those things that the fans in the stands like are overlooked by the fans on the computer who see these numbers and scream. And these fans develop a loathing of J.B. Shuck, an irrational hatred of our man in uniform. Some of them secretly wish he does terrible in his At Bats to hasten his demise as an option of manager Mike "No Computadora" Scioscia.
And here we are, in limbo, waiting for Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun to return from injury, divided over an irrational love and an irrational hate of one man. It is irrational to love J.B. Shuck in the lineup when you realize the statistical truth of what he is capable of. It is irrational to hate an Angels player who is basically the team's fifth or sixth outfielder place-holding someone else's guaranteed spot in the field. Hambone is resuming baseball activities soon and Red Kole is nursing the ankle injury long enough to make sure he returns at 100%.
In the interim we can all appreciate the fact that the Angels organization gives its fringe players playing time instead of insisting on MVP spurts. That policy likely assists us in signing lower marquee free agents who want to know they are appreciated by an organization when signing on. Sticking with Shuck when there are no other obvious choices may be the thing that helps Anaheim attract players down the road who will put up statistically acceptable numbers while displaying the hustle of the underdog that some of us love so much.