Rafael Furcal: A Risk Worth Taking

By Eriq Gardner //

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This year so far has been absolutely atrocious for shortstops in major league baseball.
Going into the season, most fantasy competitors knew that only a handful of shortstops were expected to produce significant numbers this season. Since then, the situation has only become more dire. 
There have been big injuries. Troy Tulowitzki fractured his left wrist and is still recovering on the disabled list. Jimmy Rollins missed more than two months with a calf injury. Asdrubal Cabrera fractured his left forearm.
And there have been huge disappointments. Alexei Ramirez, Yunel Escobar, Jason Bartlett, Alcides Escobar, and Miguel Tejada are all producing far short of expectations.
As a result, shortstops are on pace to collectively have one of their worst fantasy years in some time.
Take a look at this animated visualization charting the number of Runs Created over the last eight years by the 10 most valuable players at each infield position. Press the play button and note how badly shortstops are faring versus their infield brethren this season.

This brings us to Rafael Furcal, who may astonishingly be alone among all drafted shortstops in significantly surpassing projected value.

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Furcal has been ultra-hot at the plate recently and boasts impressive numbers for the season:  6 HR, 51 R, 35 RBIs, 14 SB, and a .333 average. 
That makes him the second-most valuable shortstop on ESPN’s player rater and the 39th-most valuable batter overall.
Now consider that Furcal missed a month of the season with his own injury, and you’ll get an idea how great he’s been when playing. Simply put, on a value-per-game basis, the only batters at any position who have been better are Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, and Carl Crawford. That’s it.
Furcal’s .333 batting average is the beneficiary of some good luck. His BABIP (average on balls in play) is .368, well above the league norm just above .300.

Perhaps more worrisome, Furcal is no spring chicken. He’s 32 years old and has missed 217 days of action since the beginning of the 2007 season. 
Still, there are risks and then there are risks.
Because shortstop is so thin this season, Furcal’s potential can’t be ignored. Even with regression, Furcal has a lot of room at the moment to slide off from his current rate and still be considerably above average at his position in all fantasy leagues.
He’s certainly injury-prone, but at this point of the season, fantasy teams looking to close standings gaps will likely need to look for high-upside/high-risk targets. In some cases, that means buying low on a slumping superstar. But another way might be acknowledging the value of a player producing well above his positional peers and taking the chance on good health. Buy high on Rafael Furcal.

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