Looking at Linsanity and a recent Detroit example

The news all over ESPN and the internet as a whole has been New York Knicks Jeremy Lin, undrafted point guard from Harvard.  Lin has started four games during the Knicks current five-game win streak and has averaged 28.3 points and 8.3 assists.

Lin has not only become a phenomenon in New York, but has become the world’s fastest growing brand becoming worth $14 million according to Forbes. Since February 4th, Lin’s #17 jersey is the biggest seller in the NBA and in a seven-day stretch was mentioned 140K times on Twitter.

He scored 109 points, which is more points than any player in the history of the league since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976-77.  But all of this attention and growth has come from only five games played and four games started.  Time will tell if Lin will be able to continue his success throughout the season.

All of this talk of a fast-start, coming out of nowhere story made me think back to the last time a firestorm like Lin took over Detroit sent me back to the 2006 Tigers season and a first-baseman named Chris Shelton.

Shelton was drafted out of the University of Utah in the 33rd round by the Pittsburgh Pirates but was never able to make the 40-man roster.  In 2004, the Tigers drafted Shelton in the Rule 5 draft and he was apart of the 25-man major league roster because of it.  He played sparingly that season appearing in 27 games with 56 plate appearances.

In 2005, Shelton played in 107 games in Detroit and batted .299 with 18 home runs and 59 RBI’s.  He wasn’t really expected to play a huge role in the 2006 season but the way he started it was Lin-like.

In the first 13 games of the 2006 season, Shelton hit nine home runs and became the fastest American League history and the fourth player in history to hit at least nine home runs in the teams first 13 games.

For the week of April 3, 2006 Shelton was named the American League player of the week with five home runs in the teams first four games.  He was the first player to do so since Barry Bonds in 2002.  Shelton himself was shocked by his start:

I’ve hit relatively like this during the course of a week, but not power-wise.  It’s kind of overwhelming. I can’t believe I’m hitting home runs as regularly as I am… I’m not going up there trying to hit home runs. The power part is kind of shocking. It’s kind of surprising.

Shelton helped lead the Tigers to a 5-0 start, a first since 1985, and even manager Jim Leyland was puzzled by his start:

That’s as good as it gets on the teams I’ve managed.  I just want to get base hits. He’s swinging the bat and it goes over the fence. I don’t know how that works.

This is an excerpt from the Detroit Tigers website:

Shelton, 25, batted .583 in the first six games of the 2006 season while leading the league with 14 hits, nine RBIs, a 1.458 slugging percentage and 35 total bases. He also posted a .615 on-base percentage with seven runs scored, two triples and two doubles. On April 3, in his first career Opening Day start at first, Shelton connected for two home runs and went 3-for-4 in Detroit’s win at Kansas City.

Unfortunately for Shelton the power and consistency did not last throughout the season and he was designated to Triple-A Toledo after the Tigers acquired Sean Casey in a trade-deadline deal.  Going in to the 2007 season, Shelton and Marcus Thames were in a battle for the last spot on the Tigers roster, which was won by Thames, and Shelton went back to Triple-A.

Later that season the Tigers traded Shelton to the Texas Rangers for Freddy Guzman but in 2008 was sent back to the minors.  During the 2008 season Shelton jumped from the majors and minors and became a free agent after the season.  Shelton then signed with the Mariners and again bounced between the majors and Triple-A and again became a free agent after the season.

In 2009 Shelton signed a minor league contract with the Houston Astros and spent the entire season in the minors before again becoming a free agent.  The New York Mets signed him in 2011 and again he was in the minors all season and is currently a free agent.

What does the story of Chris Shelton mean?  Well it depends, it shows what could happen to Jeremy Lin if he is only a flash-in-the-pan type player.  One day Lin and Shelton were on top of the sports world, and now one of them is only associated with the league as the answer to a trivia question.

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