The little outfielder from Durham, New Hampshire has become all the rage over the past five days or so. From amazing diving catches, to Twitter memes and four extra base hits in a game, Sam Fuld is capturing the hearts of Rays fans everywhere. But, what happens now? Is he at the peak of his powers? Will he come crashing down?
In this edition of Deep Thoughts, Mr. Bradley Woodrum and I will attempt to tackle those questions, as well as take a look at the performance of some players from last year's team currently playing elsewhere.
Erik: I'm struggling to remember a time when a player, who originally had very little hype/star power, has taken a fan base by storm quite like Sam Fuld. He was the least talked-about piece of the Matt Garza trade, and rightfully so. His performance to this point would seem to be unsustainable, but even if he can't keep up a pace quite this good, do you think he's capable of something close?
Brad: Well, as many readers may already know, I was born a Cubs fan, so this is actually my second dose of the Sam Fuld Experience. In Chicago, Fuld quickly came to represent something we advanced-stats-nerds loved: Speed, fielding, patience, and an internship at STATS Inc. Fuld garnered fans even in the simpleton communities for his health-defying fielding tactics (like charging headlong into Wrigley's hilariously stupid brick walls).
Erik: His minor league OBP numbers are solid. Always in the .360-.380 range.
Erik: Currently his OBP is over .380, which will not last. But say he can keep it in the .360 range and keeps his average around, say, .260. What do the Rays do with him? They knew going into this season he was going to make the team as the fourth outfielder. Circumstances beyond their control have allowed him to get far more plate appearances than they had intended, I'm sure.
Brad: Yeah, when the Rays added Fuld, I'm pretty sure they weren't planning on giving him 35 plate appearances in the first 11 games. At the same, his defense -- his strongest trait -- is really hard to quantify. It may take three seasons before we truly understand his defensive value. It certainly appears -- to the nude eye, at least -- that he's a legit major league player. Maybe even a starter.
Erik: A starter for who though? That's the question. Him being a legit major league player puts the Rays in a quandary. His at bats have to come at the expense of someone. Currently, it's been the departed Manny Ramirez. Johnny Damon has moved into the LF/DH role, with Fuld manning LF and RF (depending on where Damon is).
It would seem as if Fuld's excellent play has actually come at the detriment of Casey Kotchman, who was recalled from Triple-A Durham to take Ramirez's roster spot. He's been nothing but a defensive replacement thus far.
Brad: Which I find somewhat ironic because -- in my estimation -- Casey Kotchman IS Sam Fuld. Kotchman is an elite defender with limited upside whence a pine stick is in his hands. The only difference -- and this difference is worlds-large -- is that Fuld plays a premium position and runs the bases exceptionally well.
Erik: So that brings us back to the original question, and a slight variation of it as well: What do the Rays do going forward? And does Fuld's early success actually put the Rays in a tougher situation from here on out?
Brad: I think an average ball club -- like the aforementioned Cubs -- would find themselves in a bind if given this situation. They might find themselves compelled to keep starting Fuld when Jennings is ready, but this organization is too savvy for that. I fully except they see Fuld's near-cycle and early season heroics as akin to winning the lottery. And when the time is ripe, they'll put a more efficient cog in Fuld's place.
Erik: What do you think the fan reaction is going to be once that happens? Fans love to glob onto the "scrappy" players who seem to put out extra effort to make up for their lack of skill.
Brad: Eh, fans will be fans. They pissed and moaned until Kotchman got called up, now they hardly remember him. And it's not like they'd put Fuld down when Jennings is ready. They'd just merely return him to his rightful role until another injury or departure opens things up for him.
Erik: There are scenarios where Fuld gets a lot more playing time come June/July, but a lot of things would have to happen before that. I'm happy for the guy that he's a local and Twitter hero for a little bit, but I feel like he'll be another Gabe Gross, just with less power. Which is a perfectly okay thing to be.
Speaking of former Rays, it looks like a lot of the departed 2010 class are struggling in the early going.
Brad: Indeed. After all the dramatic lamentations that followed the 2010 off-season, one would expect to form a veritable All-Star team of former Rays this year. Instead, we have a cavalcade of failing relievers (Benoit gave up a game-tying run just yesterday), a pair of hopeless batsmen (both Pena and Craw-daddy put together another set of O-fer's on Tuesday), and an unenviable starter, Garza, who has done little to out-do Jeremy Hellickson.
Erik: That's not mentioning Rafael Soriano blowing leads in the Bronx...
Brad: Well, I said a "cavalcade," implying more than just Benoit; but yes, Soriano too has tasted the sting of BABIP and LOB% and all manner of luck-beasts.
Erik: I'm expecting players like Crawford, Pena, and Garza to be fine, but I'd be slightly worried about Soriano if I were a Yankee fan. John Smoltz said you shouldn't give that guy more than a one year contract.
Brad: Soriano has a well-known track record of medical issues, but outside of that, I wouldn't be too concerned. Still, it's interesting to see so many snake-bitten former Rays whilst the Rays themselves were struggling mightily.
Well, here's hoping those days of struggle are behind us and Sam Fuld's Rays find a path well-paved on the journey back into contention!
If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked dolphins the most? I'd say Flippy, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong, though. It's Hambone.