With Grady Sizemore likely to miss Opening Day with a back injury, the Cleveland Indians will likely need to have Shelley Duncan produce in his absence.

Even the most optimistic Sizemore supporters like me figured that he would manage to make it to Spring Training before getting hurt. Somehow, that’s not the case.

While I still have faith that Grady will have some value this year, we’ve already reached the point in the season where the Tribe will need to find someone to replace Sizemore in the lineup.

Considering how I think Michael Brantley should get a shot in center field and could have a breakout year, the Indians will probably need to find a replacement in left field for at least part of the season.

I’d like to see Shelley Duncan get the first shot at filling that role.

2011 saw Duncan establish himself as a legitimate major league hitter. He had a strong .260/.324/.484 slash line, .808 OPS (123 OPS+), .346 wOBA (118 wRC+), 11 HR and 47 RBI in 247 PA. Despite the average OBP, he showed enough power to make himself a well above-average hitter.

There’s a good chance that Duncan will continue to improve in 2012. Check out how Bill James projects him for 2012:

.249/.335/.465 slash line, .344 wOBA, 13 HR, 45 RBI in 270 PA

Not a bad line at all. Plus, since that projection is only for a part-time role (270 PA would be roughly 64 full games), Duncan would be even better if these projections were stretched out for a full season, hitting 31 home runs and driving in 108 runs.

Now, the trade off with Duncan is that he’s not a great defender or baserunner. Assuming he’s slightly below average defensively and an average baserunner (assumptions that are backed up by the numbers on his Fangraphs page), we can use the Simple WAR calculator to get Duncan’s projected WAR to be around 1.9.

A 1.9 WAR isn’t going to be getting Duncan into the Hall of Fame or an All-Star game, but it is a perfectly good number for a regular player. Also considering the value Sizemore’s held over the past two years (-0.1 fWAR in 104 games), Duncan could end up being an upgrade.

There’s still a chance that Sizemore gets healthy and figures it out in 2012. But the key thing to remember is even though Shelley Duncan isn’t as big of a name as Grady Sizemore, he very well could be more use in helping the Indians win.

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