If you believe what the Angels are trying so hard to convince us of, J.B. Shuck is a very good player, perhaps even the AL Rookie of the Year! At the least he has been a brilliant diamond in the rough that Jerry Dipoto has unearthed. Such a great story! So scrappy! So gritty! So very gritty!
Really it was manifest destiny for Shuck. There is nothing Angel fans love more than a gritty, undersized reserve outfielder. I have no idea why there is such a constant infatuation, but the love still harbored for the likes of Reggie Willits and Orlando Palmeiro is very real and very strong. Shuck was tailor-made for Angel fans for love.
This I cannot abide. I don't just fail to appreciate Shuck, I downright loathe him and his cult following. Why? Because J.B. Shuck doesn't deserve your adulation. His virtues are all built on lies and false narratives. To put it simply: J.B. Shuck is not the player you think he is. Allow me to explain.
J.B. Shuck takes great at-bats and works the count
This is the single-most trumpeted tool that Shuck possesses according to his supporters… and it is a damn, dirty lie.
A batter that takes great at-bats is typically defined as a batter that sees a lot of pitches. Do you know how many Shuck sees per plate appearance? 3.59. To put that in perspective, the league average is 3.82. The only Angel that sees fewer pitches is notorious free-swinger and taker of bad at-bats is Erick Aybar at 3.48. So explain to me again how great is at-bats are, please, I beg of you.
J.B. Shuck is good at getting on base
Oh does he really? Are you aware of his .326 OBP? At best, he gets on-base at a league average rate which certainly calls into question why he has spent so much time batting leadoff. This myth is likely built on the premise that he drew a lot of walks in the minors. That fact is actually true. Shuck posted walk percentages over 10% at every minor league stop.
Alas, that has not carried over into the majors this season where he has walked just 5.0% of the time. Even Mark Trumbo thinks he needs to walk more. With over 420 plate appearances this season it is safe to say that the walk rate is pretty conclusive of what his talent translates to at the plate. While he might have the skillset to judge balls and strikes, my best guess is that pitchers have so little respect for him due to his complete and total lack of power that they just say screw it, and throw the ball over the plate since he can't do much damage if he hits the ball.
Really the only reason that his OBP is even as good as it is comes from his .293 batting average. That is certainly a good average, but it gives him very little margin for error. Right now he has a .324 BABIP, which is somewhat high. It probably is a BABIP he can sustain given his batted ball profile (his xBABIP is approximately .310) and speed (well, maybe, we're getting to that). However, if he runs into a streak of bad luck and sees that BABIP start dropping, his OBP could very quickly plummet towards .300.
J.B. Shuck is fast
The only evidence that Shuck is fast is that he is an undersized white guy who runs hard. Effort does not equal speed, however. Yet time and time again we are told how fast he is, even if the justification makes no sense. A few weeks ago I was listening to the Angels radio broadcast and Mark Langston attempted to convince the listeners of Shuck's speed by claiming that he believes Shuck leads the league in almost beating groundballs. That's right, the fact that he isn't quite fast enough to get infield hits somehow is evidence that he is fast. Umm, OK.
Even if we accept that Shuck does possess good physical speed, it doesn't manifest itself in his play. This very fast man has just six steals and has been caught four times. This very fast man has 13 infield hits, which is the same amount that lumbering giant Mark Trumbo has. This very fast man rates quite poorly in defensive range metrics because he doesn't cover very much ground.
If J.B. Shuck is fast, then someone should probably inform his legs.
J.B. Shuck is a good fielder
There is one reason and one reason alone that anyone would think J.B. Shuck is a good fielder this catch:
Every other shred of evidence suggests that he is not only not good, but actually a pretty bad fielder. UZR? -5.8. Defense Runs Saved? -4. Total FRAA? -5.4. In case you weren't aware, negative numbers are bad.
Even if you don't trust the advanced defensive metrics, believe in your eyes as you watch Shuck get horrible jumps on balls only to then take a circuitous route to the ball. You can also take Mike Scioscia's word for it as the Big Catorce routinely pulls Shuck for a defensive replacement late in games.
The thing about it is that one "amazing" catch isn't even all that amazing. Sure, Shuck made a great effort but, once again, effort does not equal skill. He was also the beneficiary of the circumstances. Had he made that same catch at a ballpark where the wall was more than four feet high, he would've simply bumped lightly into the wall. At no point was he running full speed and even then he slowed down before leaping to catch the ball. The play would've made the highlight shows that night, but wouldn't have been remotely memorable. But because of the low wall in the Big A, Shuck ended up tumbling into the crowd, making it seem like he did something more special. Again, good on Shuck for not dropping the ball, but that doesn't make him a good fielder, that just makes him good at falling on his head.
J.B. Shuck is good
The fundamental issue here is that people think J.B. Shuck is good. Many have suggested that the Angels should trade Peter Bourjos or Mark Trumbo because the Angels will be just fine with Shuck starting full-time. All the misconceptions above have contributed to this foolish stance. (There are other reasons to justify trading Bourjos or Trumbo, the presence of Shuck is not one of them.)
It is actually quite easy to quantify just how good Shuck really is. According to fWAR and WARP, Shuck has been worth 0.1 wins this season. rWAR has him a bit better at 0.5 wins. Those aren't the WAR values of a good player. Those aren't the WAR values of a league average player. Those are the WAR values that are barely better than replacement level.
It all goes back to the idea that people just like Shuck because they like the stereotype of the undersized, white, hard-working outfielder. They project onto him these virtues that he does not possess and overstate the virtues that he does possess. Which brings me to my final point.
J.B. Shuck is undersized
J.B. Shuck is not really that undersized. He is listed at 5'11" and, depending on where you check, between 195 and 205 pounds. I know Americans are getting bigger and fatter, but I'm pretty sure 5'11", 205 lbs. doesn't qualify as undersized nowadays. Even if you believe that his listed size is padded (as is often the practice) and say that Shuck is 5'10", 180 lbs., that would give Shuck a BMI firmly in the overweight bucket. No, I'm not calling Shuck fat. BMI is really kind of stupid and doesn't account for Shuck being a physically fit professional athlete. My point is merely that at his listed height and weight, he is neither short nor slightly built. I knew David Eckstein and you sir are no David Eckstein.
So takeaway the undersized aspect of his profile and you just have a hard-working white guy, which might actually make you kind of racist. So you have that going for you, which is nice.