The shortstop position is so weak in fantasy right now that Rafael Furcal, a player who has had his last two seasons marred by injury and one who enters the season carrying some seriously bad karma, is a top five player at the position.
Furcal missed most of last season with a back injury but when he was healthy he played extremely well. He had a .357/.439/.573 line in 164 plate appearances. Back injuries can be chronic but with at least four teams – A’s, Braves, Dodgers and Giants – actively pursuing Furcal in the off-season, one has to assume the medical reports are good.
In his last healthy season in 2006, Furcal notched a .300-15-63 line with 113 Runs and 37 SB. Neither Bill James nor Marcel project him to come anywhere close to that line in 2009. And in addition to a decline in his rate stats, they both see a player with serious playing time issues – not surprising for either system.
To properly value Furcal, first each fantasy player is going to have to decide how much playing time they feel comfortable assigning to him. In his nine seasons in the majors, he has topped the 150-game plateau just four times. So even if you are bullish on Furcal coming into the year, it’s just not realistic to assume 150 games.
Furcal benefited greatly from a high BABIP and HR/FB rate in his abbreviated 2008. But the rest of his batted ball profile was right around his career average. Also, his plate discipline showed marked improvement in his limited playing time last year. Furcal had his highest BB% since his rookie season and his K% was less than his BB% for the first time in his career.
There is risk surrounding Furcal but a fantasy team without risk is unlikely to be a challenger for the top spot. In a top-heavy position, Furcal offers owners their best chance to acquire high-end production at a lower cost. Last year Michael Young and Derek Jeter each delivered approximately $14 of value. I would rather have Furcal than either of those players in 2009.