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Player Profile: Chris Shelton

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Today we are introducing a new feature here at BtB. Player Profiles will hopefully be a fun and informative resource, as we attempt to balance statistical reports with scouting reports, as well as a little bit of history for the players. In the spirit of early season statistics, the focus of this first piece will be on Chris Shelton.

But before we get into that, make sure to check out Jeff Sackmann's interview with Dave Lawson, over at Brew Crew Ball. Dave Lawson is the statistics guy (officially listed under Baseball Analyst/Research) for the Brewers. It is a very good interview, I must say, and Lawson goes into a lot of detail. Be sure to give it a read.

And, if you noticed, we have an MLB News Feed on the bottom of the left sidebar now. So feel free to check out the news while you're reading here.

Chris Shelton was drafted in the 33rd round of the 2001 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his first 174 professional at-bats, he did not show much power at all, but managed to hit .305/.418/.408, with 33 walks in 50 games. His second and third seasons were very successful, although a stint in Double A seems to have tempered the organization's enthusiasm towards him.

Shelton 2002-2003
2002 A 384 27 2 17 .340/.425/.587 0.389 0.247 0.122 0.193
2003 A+ 389 24 1 21 .359/.478/.641 0.489 0.282 0.175 0.172
2003 AA 133 10 1 0 .279/.331/.377 0.156 0.098 0.06 0.173

Shelton hit very well in A ball, and then massacred the A+ league he was in. A .489 SecA is amazing, and Shelton had an excellent .359/.478/.641 line to back it up. When he arrived in Double-A, his bat fell of somewhat, and his walk rate dropped. His strikeout rate stayed the same, so there is a good chance he just hit the first rough patch in his career, rather than simply being overmatched by the level.

The Pirates then left Chris Shelton unprotected in the 2003 Rule 5 draft. Baseball Prospectus 2004 said that Shelton was "arguably the best hitter in the low minors the last two seasons", so the Pirates giving him up over one 133 plate appearance stint was not the most intelligent use of the 40 man roster. Especially when that same 40 man roster has someone like, oh say, Chris Stynes on it, rather than protecting Shelton and allowing one of your late draft investments blossom in the minors. Chris Stynes hit .216/.266/.296 with a .191 EqA and a negative Wins Above Replacement Player figure. Shelton ended up spending most of his season riding the pine in Detroit, as they attempted to make something of their Rule 5 pick. He spent some time in Toledo, hitting .339/.425/.371 in only 62 at-bats, while hitting .196/.321/.283 for the big league club in 46 at-bats. Due to his lack of playing time, the Tigers sent Shelton to the Arizona Fall League, where he mashed to the tune of .404/.470/.667; it is a hitter's league, for certain, but the Pirates must have been kicking themselves, or at the least, hanging their heads in shame, at this stage of the game.

Coming into the 2005 season, PECOTA projected Shelton to hit .269/.359/.439 as a 25 year old; not the best statistics for a first basemen, but certainly acceptable for a Tigers club that was auditioning Carlos Pena at first (.252/.347/.470) along with Shelton. Pena won the job initially, and Shelton went to Toledo again. John Sickels had this to say about Shelton in his 2005 Prospect Book:

He was healthy and raking in the Arizona Fall League...His analysis remains the same as last year: he controls the strike zone very well, has good power, and should be able to hit .275 or better. But where does he play...[he] is barely passable at catcher. His range at first base is poor, although he does catch what he gets to and doesn't make a lot of errors. Shelton can do good work if he can find a platoon DH/1B role somewhere.

Sickels and BP were both optimistic that his bat would win out the day, and it certainly did. David Gassko's Range had Shelton as the worst defensive first basemen among qualifying players though. Rate2 had him as a smidge above average, while John Dewan had him rated a -2 in his Plus/Minus fielding system; very close to league average. David Pinto had Shelton at 0.903 Runs Saved Per 27 Outs, which was good for 21 out of 46; certainly league average territory.

In 181 at-bats, Shelton smacked the ball around to the tune of .331/.417/.569, once again displaying the hitting statistics that made him one of the better hitters in the low-minors. He earned a callup, and started playing everyday on May 31.

Shelton's batting average was down from his time in the minor leagues, but he still managed to hit .299/.360/.510 in 388 at-bats, to go along with a .296 EqA; .012 above the average first basemen EqA. He even managed to hold his own defensively, which had always been a weak point in his game, according to various scouting reports.

Shelton's 2006 outlook was optimistic, but still appeared to be more of the same. His projected weighted mean line was .280/.361/.493 according to PECOTA, and ZiPS gave him .302/.376/.498. It is possible that the projection systems did not put enough weight into his minor league statistics, possibly putting a little too much stock in age-relative-to-league issues. In fact, Shelton slugged .332/.428/.539 in five seasons in the minors; combining statistics at all levels seems like the wrong thing to do, but that is quite the line to look at.

Currently, Shelton is hitting .471/.500/1.216, which is absolutely ridiculous. Obviously, this line isn't going to hold up, but that does not mean Shelton isn't a better hitter than the projection systems expected him to be. Luckily we have PECOTA's range of outcomes, so we have a few guesses as to where he may end up. His 90th percentile projection is .309/.396/.562, with a .332 EqA, league average defense, and a Marginal Lineup Value Rate of .309. That seems like a possibility, considering the career minor league numbers referenced above, his excellent control of the strike zone and ability to walk, and his major league line since May 31, 2005 of .319/.374/.587. Granted, Shelton isn't going to continue to hit at the completely amazing pace he is at, but I can see him growing as a hitter, and hitting in line with his non-Rule 5 time in the majors. As for the 1.200+ slugging percentage...well, enjoy the show while it lasts folks, because this sure is a special piece of hitting on display.

Baseball Prospectus 2004, Baseball Prospectus 2005, John Sickels Prospect Book 2005, The Fielding Bible, The 2006 Hardball Times Annual, ZiPS and PECOTA projections were all used to put together this profile, as well as The Baseball Cube. If you have any suggestions to improve the format of these player profiles, let us know in the comments!