August 27, 2012: Pittsburgh, PA, USA: St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal (15) leaps to make a throw to first base against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports
The Marlins signed Rafael Furcal to a $3.5 million, one year deal, for the 2014 season. This may seem like a bad replay of the Placido Polanco and Juan Pierre deals from last year. Like Pierre and Polanco, Furcal is a guy that the Marlins have picked up from the “scrap heap” for cheap and they should expect nothing more than a warm body to play second base in another rebuilding year.
This common wisdom is to be expected, especially from a cynical and mentally abused fan base, but I have come here to to shine the light of advanced metrics to explain why Marlins’ fans should be hopeful and not skeptical about the Furcal signing.
Dave Cameron at Fangraphs and Lewie Pollis at Beyond the Box Score have done research trying to figure out the marginal value of one WAR. Cameron arrived at $6 million for his valuation and Pollis at $7 million. If we split the difference between the two methods, it would bring us to a value of $6.5 million for 1 WAR.
With the Marlins paying Furcal 3.5MM, it shows that they expect a 0.5 WAR season from him. According to Fangraphs, an average starter should be expected to contribute about 2 WAR to his club. At $6.5MM a year that would be $13MM for a 2 WAR player.
If Furcal proves to be a 2 win player in 2014, the Marlins front office will be hailed as geniuses. But what are the odds of Furcal actually being healthy enough to give him the chance to collect the roughly 600 plate appearances that it would take for him to be a full time starter? Since the 2008 season, Furcal has only played in more than 100 games twice, and missed the entire 2013 season with Tommy John surgery.
Even playing in partial seasons Furcal has done well, racking up 2.1 WAR in 36 games in 2008, 3.2 in 150 games in 2009, 4.0 in 97 games in 2010, 0.4 in 87 games in 2011 and 0.8 in 121 games in 2012. There is a serious decline in his productivity in 2011 and 2012, particularly in ’11 when he slashed .231/.298/.348 with a .290 wOBA and 83 wRC+. Part of the decline in his value can also be attributed to his falling productivity at the shortstop position.
In his best years in Atlanta and Los Angeles, Furcal posted well above average Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) numbers due largely to his arm and less so to his range. Furcal’s defensive value as a shortstop eroded in ’11 and ’12, presumably because he had lost some of his famous arm strength, as well as more of his range. A move to second base should help minimize the effect of diminished arm strength and range. It is much easier for Furcal to be a league average 2B at his age than it is for him to be a league average SS.
Offensively his career .281/.346/.403 is more than adequate at a middle infield position. More impressively, Furcal has had a OBP of .300 every year except in a very unusual 2011. His low strikeout rate and healthy walk rate seem to be sustainable even as Furcal gets older.
’11 and ’12 were relatively bad years but that could also be chalked up to career lows in BABIP , line drive and fly ball numbers; probably signs of his weakened UCL acting up. Another feature of Furcal’s bad ’11 and ’12 was his inability to hit the fastball, posting near career lows in that metric.
While it may be unrealistic for Marlin’s fans to expect the Rafael Furcal of Atlanta, the Tommy John surgery should help him play better, both at the plate and on the field.
In 600 PA, Oliver at Fangraphs expects Furcal to post a .252/.321/.340 season at .297 wOBA and 85 wRC+ at 1.5 WAR. Those might not be earth shattering numbers, but they are consistent enough, and better than what the Marlins would expect in paying him $3.5MM. Keep in mind that Oliver at Fangraphs projects seasons on the basis of 600 PA. If Furcal gets 600 PA it will be a miracle, but that’s another matter entirely.
I am not in the projecting business, but I feel as though the Marlins can expect a good season from a player trying to resurrect his career on a team full of young, energetic guys.