Super Sam Fuld captured the heart of Rays fan everywhere back in early April. On April 6th he pulled a Henry Rowengartner and nabbed J.J. Hardy at the plate from the left field bleachers. The next night he stole three bases. April 9th he makes what might be the catch of the year. Then on the 11th, April Fuld's Day as it will forever be remembered, he decided hitting for the cycle was for mere mortals and made yet another amazing catch. The Legend of Sam Fuld was in full force.
On April 27th Super Sam was hitting a robust .350/.411/.525 but since that day he has hit .202/.276/.305 thanks in large part to a May that saw him hit .157/.176/.258. His star had dimmed but not before using his legendary status to help promote diabetes awareness.
So, where does this fan favorite, cape wearing, autograph signing, diabetes awareness promoting legend fit in the Rays 2012 plans? Some would suggest as the 4th outfielder, some the 5th outfielder, but I suggest an even bigger role for this man who became a legend.
This next part is hard to determine because I have no idea what the Rays plans are for free agency, for B.J. Upton, or for trades, and those are all factors in how a player on the current roster will be used. But if we see the Rays continue to work on a minimal budget I think it is safe to assume B.J. Upton will be traded and the Rays will make splashes in the kiddie pool of free agency. Besides, left field is not high priority for this team that has bigger holes.
Fuld has value, do not let his overall line of .240/.312/.362 let you think otherwise. He has hit right-handers to a near league-average tune with a wRC+ of 98 and he had months of wRC+ of 127, 124, and 170 this season. His dismal wRC+ of 10 in May is what has killed his overall line. The only month missing is when he had a wRC+ of 77 which is expected of most hitters at least once in a season.
Maddon found out that Fuld has limitations when he played him everyday in April and May. Maddon quickly changed his tune and played him accordingly. Since Fuld's dismal May he has hit .263/.365/.381 and that includes a 12.9% walk rate. This is closer to the Sam Fuld I think we can expect in 2012. Oh, and he is a great base runner, proven by his +1.6 Bsr. Oh, and his BABIP of .276 is low for a guy with 19% line-drives hit.
Fuld carries most of his value on defense and carries a UZR of 10.7 in corner outfield spots. If you are a believer in WAR, either Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference, you should know that Fuld has been worth 1.8 fWAR and 1.6 rWAR while Upton has been worth 2.0 fWAR and 2.0 rWAR. Yes, Upton is the better player, but at the cost of $8M compared to $450K the value leans towards Fuld.
Fuld cannot play every day. He cannot hit lefties and his diabetes could hold him back from everyday play due to fatigue. But if the Rays do trade Upton and prefer not to spend money on a left fielder, assuming Desmond Jennings takes over center field, then it would be wise to platoon Fuld with Brandon Guyer and give Fuld 450 plate appearances and close to 1000 innings in the outfield.
These are numbers taken from Fuld's first full year in the Majors so there is room for error here, just look at John Jaso if you need an example. But Fuld has a skill set that adds value if used correctly and I think Maddon has figured out when to shoot his Sam Fuld signal into the Gotham sky. If the Rays go with Fuld in a platoon I would dare say Fuld could be a +3 fWAR player.