The Tampa Bay Rays signed left fielder Shelley Duncan in the offseason. Unless you are a fan of his former team, the Cleveland Indians, you may not have heard of him. That’s the life of a platoon player in MLB. But Duncan may be the best platoon player.
When you platoon in baseball, attitude is everything. The big stars usually shine the brightest and often soak up all the media light. A part-time player has to be willing to take the back seat when it’s his night off. He sits and sacrifices his pride for the good of the team. He may not be in because he’s a right-hander or he can’t hit left handed pitching. Whatever the reason, he’s in the game one night and watching the game the next. Duncan does that and does it very well.
Cleveland fans watched Duncan platoon for three years. MLB has a schedule of 162 games and he averaged 80.6. But what did he do with his half a year for three years? He hit 11 HR and averaged 38 RBI a year. If he had played full-time, that’s 22 HR and 76 RBI a year. Duncan was a very productive platoon player.
When players talk about being in the zone or keeping your head in the game, we understand that focus is important. But when a platoon player sits the first game of a double-header and plays the next, he has to refocus every other game. Try sitting on the bench waiting for your number to be called and then having to be productive every time you are in.
Duncan knows he’s battling for playing time and maybe even fighting to stay in the majors. He didn’t make it to the show until he was 27, and now at 33, time is not on his side. But if he can continue his productivity for the Rays, it will be a good year in Tampa.
Desmond Jennings was the Rays full-time left fielder last year (132 games) and he only had 13 HR and 47 RBI.
If Duncan keeps his numbers up, this could make left field much better. He is proving to be the best platoon player in MLB right now and the Rays desperately need him in that role.