Monday, August 16, 2010

Rafael Furcal and Stolen Bases

We saw the last of Rafael Furcal to date on August 2nd against the Padres. That was Rafael Furcal's 34th consecutive appearance in a game and he started in 33 of those games. It's understandable why Furcal would be in that string of games. Despite only totaling half the amount of games he appeared in last season, Furcal was already worth 4 wins above replacement on August 2nd and that is one more win WAR than he was worth in all of last season.

Furcal has a large history of back problems but I don't consider him highly injury-prone. He has had three healthy seasons with the Dodgers (2006,7 and 9) and two seasons marred with injuries (2008, where he started the first 32 games of the season, and 2010). In both injury seasons, Furcal went on torrid streaks. The first five weeks of 2008, Furcal went .357/.439/.573 and was worth 2 WAR. This season, in addition to being worth 4 WAR, he has hit .316/.380/.492. Both short stints are subject to some luck as his BABIP in 2008 was .380 and it is .350 this year. However, his penchant to catching fire and disappearing is something worthy of note.

Another facet of Furcal's game worth mentioning is his speed game. Despite his back trouble, Furcal has managed to steal 18 bases this season. It may not seem like it would be a good idea to give Furcal the green light but he has only been caught 4 times, putting his SB% above the 80% Moneyball line (the 2010 Athletics are 100 for 125, 80%). In 2008, he swiped 8 bases in five weeks, putting him on pace for around 40 bags. In Furcal's three healthy years as a Dodger, he stole 37, 25 and 12 in 2006, 2007 and 2009 respectively. He was 28 in 2006 which would have made him 31 last year. It seemed that Furcal was well-managed last year and part of that could be due to the low base-stealing demand that was placed on him.

Now that he is 32 years old, an age when speed is usually gone, he should probably not be allowed to steal bases. Much like Billy Beane demanded that only speedsters that can steal a base 80%+ be allowed the green light, an aging shortstop should be stopped from stealing, despite being at the top of the order. I believe that may have helped him just like giving him more rest during this season would have. One time is an anomaly but two times under the same manager is more than suspect.

It's easy for a meager blogger such as myself to sit back and second guess and a completely healthy Furcal would probably have gotten the Dodgers closer to being in the race but presumably they would still be short. I think most fans and prognosticators would agree, however, that with better management, Furcal might have been able to play a bigger part in this season. The mismanagement of Furcal is part of a larger problem and that is that the Dodgers this season are trying to be something that they are not.

Despite the fact that the Dodgers rank 11th in stolen bases with 75, they are 3rd in getting caught stealing (40 times). The Dodgers are stealing bases 65% of the time. Of the teams that rank above the Dodgers in stolen bases, the Royals and the White Sox are similar and the Angels are worse than the Dodgers in terms of percentage.The rest of the teams are flirting with the 80% mark.

The Dodgers are trying to be something they are not. Perhaps Joe Torre and Ned Colletti don't know that manufacturing runs is a skill that works in the playoffs but, in season, is a thing of the past. Perhaps they just like that game. Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox manager, loves the small-ball game. Mike Scioscia may miss Chone Figgins' speed game (but not his bat) and the Royals are the Royals. The Royals without Podsednik are 40 for 65 in stolen bases. They are worse (`60%) but not by much. Now, the Dodgers are without their best base stealer and have the major piece of the Royals' running game.

This year's Dodgers team is misguided in so many ways and it managed to become worse after the Trade Deadline. There are teams that can steal in baseball this year. The Dodgers aren't one of them nor should they have tried to be.

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