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Chris Shelton Returns to Tigers … To Catch

Chris Shelton is back, but not because of his bat

During the first week of this season, Chris Shelton looked like the AL MVP, and his bat was the most promising thing Tigers fans saw on their team.  After the first 5 games of the season, Chris Shelton had a whopping 14 hits, including 5HRs, 2 Triples, and 2 Doubles.  His bat looked unstoppable, and Shelton led the MLB in batting average through April 8 with a .700.  The Tigers’ first-baseman was also on pace for 162 Homeruns.  Everybody knew Shelton couldn’t stay on pace for either of those marks, but his ensuing offensive collapse was a mystery to everyone. 

Shelton remained hot for a good part of April, finishing the month with a spectacular .326 batting average, 10HR and 20RBI, but if you consider that half of those HRs and RBIs came in the first 5 days of the season, those numbers actually aren’t that impressive.  He also didn’t have a multi-hit game in 13 contests from April 17 to April 30. 

In May, Shelton was even streakier than in April.  He started off the month with an 0-for-8 slump, then recovered for a couple of 2-hit games, then slumped again; in other words, he was one of the most unpredictable players in baseball. 

But it was clear that Chris Shelton’s offensive production was going south.  Why?  Well, a few things stand out about Chris Shelton’s second month.  Despite playing everyday, he hit just 1 Homerun all month, and 4 Doubles, for a total of 5 extra-base hits.  He also had just 8RBIs in the month, and he scored only 9 runs.  And perhaps the most eye-opening statistic is that Chris Shelton’s slugging percentage was in freefall.  He slugged a tremendous .783 in April, and a terrible .363 in May. 

Moving on to June.  Chris Shelton’s slump continued in the 3rd month of the season, though he got some of his power back.  He hit 4 homeruns in June, but only managed to match his 8RBIs in May.  He also hit just .205 in June, and his OBP was an awful .278.  His OPS (OBP + SLG) had gone from 1.187 (Amazing) to .642 (Disgusting) in two months.  Shelton also struck out a whopping 29 times in June, and his slump reached its peak when he went 0-for-6 with 4 strikeouts, on June 12, against Tampa Bay, of all teams.  Yet the surprising thing was, Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland penciled Shelton into the lineup at 1B every day, apparently believing that the slump was about to end, though there were numerous clues that it wasn’t. 

Shelton did hit a little better in July, batting .277, but he hit just 1HR in the month, and his RBI total was 9.  The Tigers reacted by sending Shelton to AAA Toledo hoping that he would regain his confidence and improve his approach at the plate.  Shelton however, remained inconsistent with the Mud Hens, and he didn’t seem to be responding well to tips from hitting coach Leon “Bull” Durham. 

Shelton didn’t do well at AAA, but was promoted for depth at the catcher position

Although Shelton remained inconsistent with the Mud Hens, the Tigers promoted him when the rosters expanded to 40, for depth at the catcher position.  The Tigers and Manager Jim Leyland felt that they needed more depth at the catcher position, especially since Ivan Rodriguez has occasionally been playing at 2B due to the injury to Placido Polanco, and because Pudge was hit in the head with a bat on Friday. 

The Tigers hope that Chris Shelton will pick up the offense on the fly, while utilizing his ability to play catcher.  Expect Shelton to bat toward the bottom of the order (7th or 8th), unless he gets his power back in the near future.  He probably will not start every game, but Shelton also gives Jim Leyland a durable player and an occasionally torrid bat off the bench.  With a playoff spot all but sealed up, and the NL Central title within reach, the Tigers can afford to bide their time with Shelton. 

_____________________________________________________________

And, as promised, here’s the answer to the first trivia question…

Q: Who was the youngest player ever to hit 50HR in a season?

A: Willie Mays.  The Hall-of-Fame outfielder hit 52 homers for the New York Giants in 1955

And today’s trivia question…

Which team drafted Chris Shelton in 2001 and how did Detroit acquire him?

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4 Responses to “Chris Shelton Returns to Tigers … To Catch”

  1. I must admit, I wasn’t surprised when Shelton was called up come September, but it was surprising that the team announced that he came up to catch. However, he has yet to catch, and was in the lineup today as a first baseman. It doesn’t appear as though Shelton’s ability to play behind the plate will be utilized…

    He’s come a long way since the Tigers first acquired him, which means, of course, that I recall the answer to today’s trivia question. 🙂

  2. Chris Shelton was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 33rd round of the 2001 MLB Draft. He was acquired by the Tigers via the Rule 5 draft.

  3. 1) Ripismoney,

    I think Shelton will be used both as a catcher and 1B; manager Jim Leyland sometimes puts together his lineup based on the starting pitcher. If he wants certain players in the lineup, Pudge’s ability to play 2B and Shelton’s ability to play 1B will help him get the lineup exactly the way he wants it with less difficulty. If Shelton gets back up to speed with his bat, the move could be extremely valuable for the Tigers — he could become the best of the Playoff Roster Deadline callups.

    2) Michael Carter,

    That is the correct answer to the trivia question. Shelton was in fact drafted by the Pirates in the 33rd round of the 2001 MLB Draft, and acquired by the Tigers via the Rule 5 draft in 2003.

    ———————-
    I think Shelton will hit around .275 with 4HR and 10RBI in September. Sean Casey should keep the starting 1B job, although Shelton might be more valuable in day games (.314 hitter in day games, compared to just .251 at night). Seems weird that his day/night split is that big…

    Thanks for your comments,
    Daniel

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