What does the cutting of J.B. Shuck tell us about how the Angels evaluate players differently than they once did.
When the Angels expanded their rosters n September 2, they DFA'd Michael Kohn and J.B. Shuck in order to clear spots on the forty-man roster for other players to join the big club. Shuck was having a fine season at AAA Salt Lake.
He had been sent down after Spring Training in favor of Collin Cowgill specifically because The Angels wanted more right-handed bats off the bench. Mike Scioscia stated as much. After a rookie season that saw him place fifth in Rookie of the Year votes after batting .293 and getting 128 hits in 129 games, Shuck was made the organization's fifth outfielder.
He came up to Anaheim twice this season and did terribly - getting 14 hits in 88 Plate Appearances over 22 games. Meanwhile at Salt Lake he batted .322 and had an .828 OPS with 130 hits in 102 games.
Why did the Angels lose faith in him? While Shuck was lauded for his grit and hustle by management, he was a fan favorite for playing the game with heart. Longtime Angels observers would say this was a recipe for a long term position on the team.
Consider a similar player in recent Angels history, Reggie Willits. Like Shuck, Willits was a guy who played with heart and grit, a fan favorite for being the scrappy guy who gave his all. Like Shuck he got ample unexpected playing time in Anaheim during his Age 26 season, posting similar numbers - after bating .293 and getting 126 hits in 136 Games, Willits was fifth in the Rookie of the Year votes. But unlike Shuck, he got ample playing time. Perhaps it was becuase he was a switch hitter, but Willits played fourth outfielder for parts of four more seasons with the Angels, even as his production dwindled.
But there were numbers beyond the numbers. For every good thing Shuck did, advanced stats pointed out that it was a rare instance indeed. While his supporters raved about his amazing rookie campaign of 2013, advanced stats put its value as an OPS+ of 98 with a 0.8 WAR. Fans of Shuck raved about his defense and even this year, Jose Mota recalled Shuck diving into the LF seats to rob Jose Bautista of a HR as the defensive catch of the decade. Advanced stats put his defensive WAR last year as -0.6 (that's NEGATIVE value).
His numbers in limited playing time this season were even worse - an OPS+ of 49 with improved defense. But he never really got the chance and all the while Kole Calhoun got cemented in as a regular and Collin Cowgill performed beyond expectations as the fourth outfielder.
Why the abandonment of letting hearth and hustle roam free in Anaheim? Perhaps a look at the advanced numbers of Reggie Willits scared the front office into thinking analytically instead of emotionally. Willits chalked up NEGATIVE WAR in three out of the four seasons after his vaunted rookie campaign - that celebrated year amounting to exactly 0.7 WAR, with a 96 OPS+. These numbers are just too similar to Shuck's to ignore - the front office has dumped J.B. Shuck because they see the advanced statistical writing on the wall... the days of grit, heart, and hustle in Anaheim have been replaced with new words: talent, consistency and results. The players with superior talent get promoted. the players with consistency move up in the organization. The players who get results stick around.
Yes it is a new era in Anaheim. Can we ask yet, though, what took them so long?