Some team should give Shelley Duncan a chance

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Shelley Duncan would probably have several seasons in the big leagues under his belt had just about any other team drafted him in the second round back in 2001, but instead he’s wasted away in the Yankees’ minor-league system.
Duncan has accumulated 3,812 plate appearances spread over 905 games and nine seasons in the minors, including over 1,000 trips to the plate at both Double-A and Triple-A.
During that time in the minors he’s blasted 170 homers while making multiple All-Star teams, and this season he was named MVP of the International League after hitting .277/.370/.546 with 30 homers and 99 RBIs in 123 games.
Yet not only did Duncan turn 30 years old with a grand total of 68 games in the majors to show for it, the Yankees dropped him from their 40-man roster last week. Duncan has smartly decided that he’ll likely never get an extended shot in New York, so he’s opted for free agency rather than returning on a minor-league deal. It remains to be seen if any other teams view him as a big-league player, because his prime was wasted at Triple-A and he hardly has star potential at this point.
With that said, Duncan deserves a chance to stick in the majors and is perfectly capable of knocking around left-handed pitching as a productive platoon first baseman, corner outfielder, or designated hitter. At the very least he’d make for a nice bench bat after hitting .271/.368/.533 in four seasons at Triple-A. Baseball Think Factory projects him as a .252/.328/.460 hitter in the majors for 2010, which is a higher OPS than seven teams got from their first basemen and 18 teams got from their left fielders this season.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.