Rafael Furcal, as you don’t need me to tell you, has been scary good this year, and especially so over the last six weeks. (And as you especially don’t need me to tell you, he should be an All-Star, no thanks to the ludicrous selections of Omar Infante and Jose Reyes.) You can just see it in the way he moves; he’s finally put the fear of re-injuring his back aside and can concentrate on playing the way he’s capable of. I’m trying to think of Dodger hot streaks like what we’re seeing now, and let me tell you: it’s not easy. Manny in 2008, for sure. Marlon Anderson at the end of 2006, maybe?
Last night, Furcal chipped in three more hits, including the go-ahead home run, saving the Dodgers from blowing yet another outstanding Clayton Kershaw start. I mean, choose whatever metrics you want; they’re all ridiculous. He’s got four homers in the last eight games, a stretch in which his OPS is 1.325. Over his last 31 starts (which span more than a month because of the time missed tending to his father) he’s only hitting an absurd .382/.422/.625. Here’s my favorite stat, though: in those 31 starts, he’s gone hitless just 7 times, but he’s had multiple hit games 17 times. Even his defense, which is hard to quantify but especially so over less than half a season, seems to have new energy; I noted on Twitter recently that I think I’ve seen him make more phenomenal plays this year than I have in the previous four years combined.
So it should come as no surprise that all of the leading stats paint him as the most valuable shortstop in baseball. FanGraphs shows him leading MLB SS in WAR, at 3.2 (and no complaining that Troy Tulowitzki has missed time, because with Furcal’s DL stint he’s actually still seven games behind Tulo), while Baseball Prospectus has him destroying the field in MLVr (Marginal Lineup Value rate, which I used instead of VORP because his missed time hurts him there). His position as top dog at his position this year is nearly indisputable.
But just how good of a season, in terms of Dodger history, are we seeing from our oft-injured shortstop?
Well, according to baseball-reference, there’s been 122 seasons in Dodger history in which a shortstop has accumulated at least 252 plate appearances, which is how many Furcal has after last night’s game.
Furcal sits atop that list, and it’s not even particularly a tight race:
|3||Pee Wee Reese||121||661||1954||35||BRO||141||98||171||10||.309||.404||.455||.859|
|4||Pee Wee Reese||120||590||1947||28||BRO||142||81||135||12||.284||.414||.426||.841|
|6||Pee Wee Reese||116||644||1946||27||BRO||152||79||154||5||.284||.384||.378||.762|
|9||Pee Wee Reese||113||743||1949||30||BRO||155||132||172||16||.279||.396||.410||.806|
I look at that list and I get hit with a few immediate thoughts – namely, “damn, Pee Wee Reese was good!” and “I don’t know who Glenn Wright was, but his line came in 1930 so it doesn’t count.” (Dead last? Juan Castro‘s atrociously amazing .199/.245/.255 campaign in 1998. The resulting .499 OPS is still far better than Garret Anderson‘s .477 this year. Ha!) But mostly what I think is, “everyone else on that list is one, maybe two or three points ahead of the next guy. Furcal is crushing Arky Vaughan, and it’s not close.
Change the parameters of the search to focus on career totals rather than individual seasons (we’ll set the minimum at 450 games as a Dodger, or about three full seasons), and you get much the same result:
|2||Pee Wee Reese||99||2166||1940||1958||21-39||9470||1338||2170||330||126||.269||.366||.377||.743|
It’s not a big stretch to say that you’re looking at the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history, and while it’s hard to compare the sum contribution of his five years here to the totality of Reese’s 19-year-stretch as a Dodger (all but the final one in Brooklyn), Furcal’s 2010 has reached heights that Reese never saw.
So what can we expect the rest of the season? Well, no one could keep up this level of play, so don’t be all that surprised when he regresses a little, but I’m not sure that the regression is going to be all that huge. Much of this is due to a .373 BABIP, high above his normal average, but his other stats are more or less the same. We’ve seen other guys show improvement when they’ve improved their plate discipline or contact skills, but Furcal is swinging at the same amount of pitches and making contact at the same rate he always has. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that improved health (and improved confidence in that health, which is almost as important) has allowed him to get better swings on those balls, leading to more solid hits and better opportunities to use his speed. And with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and (eventually) Manny Ramirez directly behind him, opposing pitchers won’t have much incentive to work around him.
Enjoy it while it lasts, friends. Because this may be the best shortstop any of us have ever seen wearing the Blue.