MSTI’s 2010 in Review: Shortstop

Rafael Furcal (B)
.300/.366/.460 .826 8hr 3.4 WAR

I have to be honest, when I first looked back on Furcal’s season, all I could think of at first was, “oh, shocker, he hurt his back again.” And that’s true; he’s proven he simply cannot be counted upon to stay healthy.

However, that’s shortchanging him a bit, because when he was able to stay on the field, he put together one of the finest seasons of his career. Really, you can break his season down into three two-month slices.

In April and May, Furcal started just 24 games, missing most of May with a strained hamstring. His .308/.359/.402 (.761) was quite good even then, yet it hardly compared to his June and July (and two games in August). Furcal played his way onto the All-Star team by destroying opposing pitching with a .320/.391/.540 (.931) line, and all eight of his homers, though he did miss a week while mourning the passing of his father. He was so good, in fact, that in July I ran the numbers and said he was the best shortstop in Los Angeles Dodger history, slathering him with praise:

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.

Of course, it was too good to be true, because his August and September were disastrous, which you could of course say about any number of Dodgers. He played just two games in August before his back sent him to the DL again; when he returned in September he was hardly the same, hitting .237/.310/.329 (.639).

I’ve seen some calls to move him this offseason, but he’s making $12m next year, so that’s just not an option. All you can do is pray that he’s somewhat healthy, but not too healthy; his 2012 $12m club option becomes guaranteed with 600 PA  next year.

Jamey Carroll (A)
.291/.379/.339 .718 0hr 2.7 WAR

Carroll’s been proclaimed the unofficial 2010 MVP of the Dodgers by a variety of outlets and experts, and while you can argue that, it says a lot about this year’s edition of the club that a 36-year-old backup infielder who didn’t hit even one homer would even be in the conversation.

That’s not a slight against Carroll, of course, who had what was essentially a career year while getting far more playing time at shortstop in the wake of Furcal’s injury than ever anticipated. When he was signed, I didn’t mind him as a backup infielder, though at the time I wasn’t thrilled with the second guaranteed year. I felt that Felipe Lopez was a better fit (remember, Lopez was coming off of a great 2009), especially when Lopez signed for barely a third of what Carroll got, which made the Carroll deal look so bad that it made its way onto MLBtraderumors’ list of “worst offseason deals”.

Still, that’s more a concern about management than it is about Carroll himself – he far outplayed any expectations we may have had of him. In fact by August I was wondering why Carroll wasn’t hitting higher in the lineup to take advantage of his high OBP:

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it: there is no rational reason that Ryan Theriot should be hitting higher in the lineup than Jamey Carroll. Carroll gets on base more often, and even hits for a bit more power. I said it before last night’s game, and look what happened: Carroll got on twice, Theriot just once. There’s no question that this offense needs a shake-up; isn’t this an easy and obvious way to do it?

That never really happened, of course, but the unexpected ability of Carroll to get on base and adequately play shortstop (that’s “adequate” in the sense that he caught what was hit to him, despite showing very little range) helped the Dodgers avoid a “2008 Angel Berroa” level disaster at the position. Really, Carroll will be a good barometer of how successful the 2011 Dodgers are. If he’s a nice bench piece, that’s good news. If he’s getting serious playing time again, then things haven’t really gone in the right direction.

Chin-lung Hu (inc.)
.130/.160/.174 .334 0hr -0.2 WAR

Hu made his yearly cameo for the 4th season in a row, but it’s kind of an understatement to say that his career has largely stalled out. At 26, he had just 25 plate appearances in the bigs, less than he had in 2007 or 2008.

Really, it was that 2008 season that seemingly sealed his fate, because coming off a big season in the minors in 2007 (.325/.364/.507) he flopped badly in his big chance to replace the injured Furcal in 2008 (.181/.252/.233 in 121 PA).

Still, even if he was never going to be as good as that 2007 promised he could be, I think he’s still been slightly underrated, in the sense that he at least deserves chances ahead of retreads like Nick Green. There’s never been any question about his glove, and he’d had a pretty decent line of .317/.339/.438 in 223 AAA plate appearances this season, before undergoing surgery on an injured left thumb. He can still be a starter on a second-division club, or a backup on a better one, but since he’s out of options that chance will likely come with another organization next season.

Juan Castro (inc.)
.000/.250/.000 .250 0hr 0.0 WAR

Castro played just one game in his third (and pray to whatever deity you choose that it’s also his final) stint with the Dodgers, so what am I really going to say about him? Really, the highlight of my coverage of Castro this season was while he was still playing with the Phillies, as I was praising Furcal in July. I noted that Furcal’s 2010 was the best season a Dodger shortstop had ever had to that point, and presented a list of the top ten entries. Right after the list, I said…

(Dead last? Juan Castro‘s atrociously amazing .199/.245/.255 campaign in 1998.)

Yeah, that sounds about right. In parts of seven seasons with the Dodgers (1995-99, 2009, 2010), Castro put up a total line of .205/.258/.271. That’s a 43 OPS+. Good lord.

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Next! Casey Blake turns into a pumpkin! Russ Mitchell tries to make his mark! It’s third base!

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