Here’s the facts:
- In 2008, the Giants had the worst team production for the shortstop position in the National League. The collective of Giants’ shortstops combined for an OPS of .576. That made them the only team in the NL that failed to surpass the .600 OPS mark for team shortstop production.
- Omar Vizquel, Ivan Ochoa, Brian Bocock, and Emmanuel Burriss all logged 200+ innings at the position. Despite strong defense from Vizquel, Bocock, and Ochoa, their combined futility with the bat washed out any positive gains with the glove.
- If you expanded the selection to both the AL and NL, only the Baltimore Orioles had less production for their shortstop position than the Giants. O’s shortstops had an OPS of .535.
- You can check the newly added positional depth chart to see that help isn’t coming from the minor leagues. Ochoa (if he returns), Bocock, and Burriss are current candidates for shortstop in ’09. Brandon Crawford and other Giants’ shortstops are still a good ways off.
- Emmanuel Burriss had a respectable year for a baseball player who was rapidly accelerated to the pros. But his overall lack of power — in both the majors and his track record of the minors — has some concerned. Burriss’ ISO of .046 places him among other light-hitting players such as: Tony Pena (.040), Chone Figgins (.042), Omar Vizquel (.045), and Juan Pierre (.046), and Willy Taveras (.046). It’s not a great sign when the shortstop you are replacing, who had a historically bad season with the bat, hits for the same amount of power as you do. And is probably a better overall defender.
- Heading into the winter, the shortstop market is a mixed bag with one clear shiny prize sitting atop. Rafael Furcal. Your team, who is in dire need of a shortstop, has already had “serious” talks with Furcal and could very-well make a push to sign him.
And here we are, the Giants need a shortstop badly and Furcal is the best shortstop on the free agent market. I like Burriss as much as the next guy but you can’t deny the concerns that come with his bat and you can’t deny the way things have been focusing towards Furcal.
The question is: who is Furcal and what does he bring to the table? Will he be worth the money? And is he a better option to play short as compared to someone like Burriss? These are a few of the questions I hope to answer.
Rafael Furcal was signed by the Atlanta Braves in 1996 as an undrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He started his pro career in 1997 as a 19-year-old in the Gulf Coast League as a second baseman for the GCL Braves. Over his first season, Furcal hit: .258/.335/.342 while stealing 15 bags in 17 attempts. Furcal’s first step toward prospecthood took place in the following year when he played for Danville in the Appalachian League. In 66 games, still at 2B, Furcal hit: .328/.412/.414 while stealing 60 bases out of 75 attempts. He was named the Rookie-level league’s top prospect and he immediately shot to the top of prospect charts in the Braves System. Furcal continued to grow as a player in 1999. He played over two levels — A and A+ — and was now playing shortstop. He particularity excelled in the SAL when he hit: .337/.417/.397 with 73 stolen bases in 83 games. After the transition to shortstop, BA described his defense in the following quote: “His glove is consistent, while his range and arm strength are well above-average.”
Furcal started 2000 in the majors after a brief 3 games in AA. Furcal replaced Braves SS Walt Weiss and never looked back. Over 131 games Furcal hit: .295/.394/.382 with 40 stolen bases in 54 attempts. Furcal eventually claimed the Rookie of the Year award and remained a fixture at shortstop for Braves teams in the early 2000′s. Before 2006, Furcal signed a 3-year deal with the Dodgers. Furcal put together a very nice ’06 season for the Dodgers but battled injury problems over his final two years. Furcal had ankle problems in 2007 that reduce his running speed and kept him to 138 games played. His SB total of 25 in ’07 was his lowest seasonal total since his injury shortened 2001 in which he stole 22 bases. In 2008 Furcal started the year as one of the hottest players in baseball, hitting: .366/.448/.597 until May 5th when a back injury forced him to the 60-day DL. Furcal underwent back surgery during the season and didn’t make it back to the Dodgers until late September.
Can He Field His Position?
Now that we’ve got the brief history of Furcal out of the way, let’s get down to the details. What kind of fielder is Rafael Furcal? Let’s check out some plus/minus numbers.
Remember that plus/minus is in “plays” and not runs. Also, I don’t have access to the 2004 and 2005 seasons, but the 2004-2006 total is available online at the Fielding Bible website.
From ’04-’06 Furcal was +36 plays above average as compared to his shortstop peers. We know that in ’06 he was +4 plays above average, so between 2004-2005 he was something like +15 plays per year on average. In ’07 he was +6 plays above average even with the ankle issues. In ’08 his sample size was very small, he only played 296 innings at short, but he rated as an average defender. With Furcal’s age and injuries over the past few years he should be an average to slightly below average defender at shortstop over the next 2-3 years.
Every year Tango does a Fan Scouting Report which is very interesting. He collects ballots from fans on each team and their fielders, and then tallies the results. You can find the 2008 and past results, here. Furcal rates pretty well in Tango’s Fan Scouting system. He tended to rate as an average to above average fielder while earning strong marks for his throwing strength.
Furcal At The Plate
One of Furcal’s most noted traits is his abilities at the plate. Let’s see how he rates in sOPS+, wOBA, and WPA/LI.
sOPS+ is interesting because it compares Furcal to other shortstops. From ’03-’06 Furcal was an above average hitting shortstop. His OPS, on average for these years, was 15% better than the average shortstop in the NL. He was below average in 2007 and was way above average in 2008.
wOBA also shows that Furcal was an above average hitter from ’03-’06 and in ’08. WPA/LI also shows that Furcal was worth +1 offensive wins in ’03, ’05, and ’08. If you had any question of just how good Furcal was in 183 PA’s in ’08, this should help settle your question. His +1.42 offensive wins in ’08 rank as his best score over the last 6 years. Also, remember that WPA/LI isn’t recorded by position but by all qualified hitters. Having a shortstop that is +1 offensive win by batting alone is very valuable.
Furcal experienced a drop in his offensive numbers in ’07 and it was his worst season with the bat since 2003. If you check out some of the underlying numbers, you see that Furcal lost some power in that year. In ’07 his ISO dropped to .084 after having ISO’s of: .151, .135, .144, and .145 over the previous 4 years. As a result, his HR/FB% dropped to a very small 3.8% after averaging between 8-9% in previous seasons. Furcal’s ISO surged to .217 in ’08 but that was accompanied by a .380 BABIP. Furcal’s true ISO going forward is probably somewhere around .120 and recent projections from ZiPS and Bill James support this.
Furcal is reported to be looking for a deal that ranges from 3-4 years and he could get anywhere from $10M to $14M per season. In recent years, teams have paid close to $5M per win above replacement. If we find out how many wins above replacement Furcal is, we can find out how much Furcal is worth. Using the latest ZiPS projection on Furcal, I have his wOBA projected to .344, slightly above the league average of .338.
I projected Furcal to make 500 plate appearances in ’09 and be worth +0.5 wins defensively, which might be a little optimistic but he was close to that range in ’07. If Furcal is healthy in ’09, he should play average, to above average defense. Let’s also compare him to the player most likely to head into next season as the Giants starting shortstop, Emmanuel Burriss. I’ve projected Burriss as a .310 wOBA hitter — which is probably overly optimistic, I haven’t seen any credible projections for him yet — and an average defender. I’ve also bumped him to 600 PA’s, 100 more than Furcal, as his health is much better. Burriss should be much more likely to attain 600 PA’s than Furcal. The results come to this:
Furcal works out to be worth around +2.39 wins above replacement in ’09. That makes him worth around $11M per season on the free agent market — remember, teams pay about $5M per win above replacement. The Giants should look to pay Furcal anywhere between $10M-$12M for season if they want to pay him what he’s worth. The difference between Furcal and Burriss is a little more than +1.5 wins to the Giants. Note here that it could be even greater if Burriss doesn’t hit a wOBA of .310, which is very possible. I’ll be anxiously awaiting to see how ZiPS, Marcel, CHONE, and PECOTA project him,
A recent article on the Chron about Furcal details the following:
The Giants’ more realistic targets are a middle infielder and bullpen setup men. As of midday, they had not submitted a formal offer for Rafael Furcal, the premier shortstop on the market and one of their supposed targets. Furcal should have plenty of suitors, including Oakland, and is believed to be seeking four years at $10 million per for openers.
A 4/40 deal for Furcal would be in range for market value. Being the top shortstop on the market, many teams will be looking at Furcal and he could get expensive, quick.
Furcal has been a fine player over his career and is above average for his position. If he can post a wOBA of .344 over the life of his contract, he’ll be worth about $11M per season. That includes the presumption that he’ll also be an average or better defender throughout the contract. The Giants have little to no depth at shortstop and outside of Burriss, who has bigger questions marks than you would like, the shelf is pretty bare. The Giants have stated that if they sign a shortstop, they’ll be likely to move Burriss over to 2B.
This poses a problem because Burriss’ bat is weak. If he’s plays at second base, he’ll need to defend around +10 runs above average for that position to play above replacement. The best and worst defenders tend to range from -15/+15 by runs saved, so the best case scenario for Burriss at 2B is that he can maintain a .300+ wOBA and defend like MarkEllis, one of the premier defenders in the game at 2B.
I would take a Furcal deal in the neighborhood of 4/40 to 4/48. I think anything past that and you start running into trouble. The Giants have no one on the way to help them out at shortstop and if they can land a healthy, and productive Furcal for the next 3-4 years, that should help bridge the gap to current shortstop prospects Brandon Wood, Sharlon Schoop, and Ehire Adrianza. I think because of the relative weakness of shortstop options in the Giants system, they have to consider Furcal and if they can land him for $10-12M per season, they should do it.
Comment Starter: Do you want Furcal?