Welcome to day four of MSTI.com’s 2007 In Review. Today, we will review shortstop.
Rafael Furcal = C-
2007 Recap: In the two years that the Dodgers have had Rafael Furcal, it’s been hard to truly evaluate him, mostly for the fact that the Dodgers have not had a healthy Rafael Furcal for most of his tenure in L.A. After giving him a 3 year/$39 million deal going into 2006, the expectations were high, only for him to battle shoulder and hand issues (first half in 2006 = .267/.345/.346, 4 HR’s). Then after getting healthier as the season went on, he went like batshit crazy and, in the second half of 2006, hit .339/.399/.564 with 11 HR’s and was arguably the team’s MVP.
So that gave us high expectations, right? I mean, O.K., GREAT, he kicked ass. So in 2007, he’s going to finally come out of the gates strong and healthy and kick some major ass and help propel us, right?!
After Jason “I have to run around Pasadena and then half of the greater L.A. area before coming back to catch the ball” Repko attempted to make a diving catch in a Spring Training game, not only did he end his own season, but Furcal’s ankle was also hurt. Originally ruled a sprain, Furcal was just never able to get it going, outside of one brief INSANE stretch when he had four straight four hit games in May and literally raised his average around .80 points in that stretch! But that brief glimmer of hope faded as his ankle continued to give him issues all year and killed most facets of his game in the process, as well as play a part in killing the hopes of young children who have never seen the Dodgers play past September. Furcal help make children cry!
Offensively? Well… uh… he sucked. With the Dodgers offense lacking a power bat, the emphasis was going to be on manufacturing runs and playing smallball (which, for the record, if someone ever says that, it’s code for “my offense sucks”). And the key to smallball that’s ever so, so critical? Having good leadoff men that will get on base a lot to set the table and raise hell on the base paths. But, instead of doing that, his OBP tumbled from .369 to .333 and his RC/27 (RC/27 = basically how many runs an entire offense of Furcal’s would average each game) went from 6.2 to 4.3. But I know what some are thinking: “Well, O.K., so maybe the OBP was down a little bit. But he is still good for some HR’s, so I bet ol’ Rafael still jacked a few out!” And then I’d say no, and that he went all Nomar and his power tumbled from 15 HR’s to 6 HR’s. Then you’d say: “O.K., you bastard, so maybe he didn’t hit many HR’s. But I bet he still got a lot of extra base hits and, if he did that, you need to shut up!” Then I’d tell you that he had 33 extra base hits, which ranked him 12th out of 14th amongst NL shortstops, as well as second to last on the team, which led to a drop in his SLG% (.445 to .355). Then I would translate all of this in Spanish to Adrian Garcia and say it in a real, zesty Ricardo Montalban accent! Then I’d deliver the knockout punch and also mention a lot more stats, such as even his speed suffered this year, with his stolen base totals going from 37 to 25, his OPS+ went from 107 to 77, had a .244 EqA, and had a WARP3 that dropped from 9.8 to 6.3. Finally, compared to his teammates, Furcal ranked 8th in VORP, second to last in OBP and SLG, and dead last in BA. Also, in what’s a really sad stat, he had the 13th highest VORP amongst SS’s… in the NL.
Finally, though, in a last ditch attempt, as they sit there gasping for air, they’d mutter really low:
“Did… he… at least outslug Juan Pierre?”
And to that… yes, he did. And then they smiled and died in peace and I don’t really remember the rest.
Despite all this, one of my biggest gripes with Furcal this year was that he was one of the dumbest hitters on the team. Furcal, throughout his career, has normally been a relatively patient hitter and his 3.84 pitches per plate appearance last year ranked second on the team. However, that total fell all the way to 3.69 this year and there was a difference in his at-bats for it. I can’t count how many times he’d come up with runners on, two outs and swing at the first thing he saw, usually some crap pitch, that would result in a ground out to end the inning. Just piss poor plate approaches, especially from a leadoff hitter.
So, how the hell did he earn even a C-? Simple, mostly his defense and playing it at a premium position. Even though the Dodgers defense as a whole sucked donkey balls, Furcal was one of the few bright spots and saved many a pitcher’s ass with his range and amazing plays. In fact, he had a range factor of 4.96, which ranked second amongst NL shortstops. On the downside, if you look at his fielding percentage, it was .972 this year and that’s, well, really bad and he historically has a bad fielding percentage. But Furcal is the perfect example of how skewed fielding percentage can be because of his arm. His arm has always been one of his greatest assets, and it’s a fucking cannon, but it’s also his curse for the fact that, oh… I don’t know… he’s like the Rick Vaughn of shortstops and just has a teensy bit of trouble sometimes remembering that he’s supposed to throw those bullets to first base instead of Joe the fucking hot dog vendor in the loge level… just a little high!
The point is, his low fielding percentage largely comes from throwing errors, but, overall, he really is great defensively and gets to a lot of balls that I would never think were generally possible to get to. Thankfully, the ankle issue didn’t have that much impact on his defense or else we could have finished in 4t… oh wait.
2008 Outlook: While having one of the worst years of his career, you can’t really say that’s the real Furcal. With his ankle bothering him for most of the year, and then his back which shut him down at the end of the season, the Dodgers really weren’t able to get a healthy Furcal and his performance suffered for it. If Furcal can come back and, for the first time in his Dodgers career, stay healthy, as well as stay the hell away from Jason Repko, expect his numbers to jump back up to the career .280-.290 hitter that will get on base at a .350 clip, steal 30-40 bases, and hit around 10-15 HR’s. I mean, Furcal’s not a great hitter, and never will be, but, when healthy, he’s good and that should more than suffice. However, I also wouldn’t be surprised if this were to be his last year as a Dodger. 2008 is the last year of his contract and he’ll be 31 next offseason. Furcal is already the second highest paid SS in baseball, making $13 million a year and, with his agent being you know who, they will likely try to cash in again for the last big contract. Seeing that he’s making so much already, I don’t see the Dodgers willing to pony up even more money for a man who, frankly, has underperformed his contract (which, due to some health issues, isn’t COMPLETELY his fault), and also adding to matters is having the Dodgers’ Minor League Player Of The Year, Chin-Lung Hu, waiting in the wings.
On the flip side, Furcal does have that killer veterany-ness that make Ned go horny, so…