What in the Sam Fuld is Going on Here? | The Process Report

What in the Sam Fuld is Going on Here?

Legend of Sam Fuld

Most people have heard the Legend of Sam Fuld facts going around the internet the past few weeks. These began after an incredible run of seven games that saw Fuld go 16 for 31 and raise his batting average from .227 to .396, while also making several great diving catches in the outfield. Here are a couple “facts”:

Sam Fuld once struck out just to see how it felt. He didn’t like it. AT ALL

Aroldis Chapman can throw a baseball 106MPH. Sam Fuld can throw Aroldis Chapman 106MPH.

And Fuld’s personal favorite: The highest point value you can achieve in Scrabble is spelling “Sam Fuld.”

But this is progressive analysis about the Tampa Bay Rays, so let’s stick with real facts. Here’s one: Sam Fuld did not get his first Major League RBI until plate appearance 123.

Fuld on Offense

Prior to this season, Sam Fuld was a fourth or fifth outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, spending the 2007 through 2010 seasons bouncing between the Major Leagues and AAA. He appeared in 98 games, amassing 155 plate appearances with a .252/.368/.344 line, while spending most of his time on defense patrolling center field. His Major League Equivalent line from his minor league career according to Driveline Baseball is .221/.294/.313. He has been a low average, no power hitter for all of his career so far.

This year, Fuld’s line is an astounding .368/.403/.561. However, his BABIP is .377, while his expected BABIP is about .311, so he has probably been a bit lucky with balls falling for hits. His career BABIP is .315. ZiPS projects him to finish the season with a .280/.350/.403 line.

Has his approach changed? According to research, strikeout rate, walk rate and line drive rate don’t start becoming useful until about 150-200 plate appearances. The only stat that has possibly stabilized this early in the season is swing percentage and Fuld’s is almost exactly at his career average (39.0 percent this year, 39.6 percent career). His walk rate and strikeout rate are both much lower than his career average, so it appears he has been putting more balls in play than usual. There is still plenty of time for this to stabilize, though.

Fuld’s strategy at the plate is to be picky and not miss. He swings at a fewer number of pitches and makes contact when he swings more than the average player. Fuld swings and misses 3.3 percent of the time, which is well below the major league average of 8.5 percent.

There is no evidence that Fuld has changed his approach or that he has increased his talent level on offense. He has been putting more balls in play and those balls have been falling for hits more often than they probably should be. This will most likely regress to his career norms.

The Wall Magnet

Defense is Fuld’s true calling card. Because of his all-out, aggressive defensive style, he has been called “a crash test dummy with a death wish.” His diving catch in one game led David Price to come up with his own Sam Fuld Fact: “I heard that the world is covered by 75 percent water, and the other 25 percent is covered by Sam Fuld.”

According to UZR, Fuld has been an average fielder. This is confirmed by the Fans Scouting Report, Dewan Plus/Minus and Total Zone. However, with the small sample that is available, he appears to be above average in right and left field (UZR/150 = 40) and below average in center field (UZR/150 = -23) .

What can the Tampa Bay Rays legitimately expect from Fuld this year?

Fuld projects to have a mediocre average with little to no power and a good amount of stolen bases sprinkled in. On defense, he will provide plenty of spectacular plays and should be above average, as long as he stays in the corners. Overall, this forms an average to slightly above average corner outfielder, albeit an atypical one. As long as he can stay healthy until Desmond Jennings is called up in June or July, he should be a valuable piece for the Rays this season.

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