#16: Rafael Furcal

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Switch-Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Shortstop
Seasons With Braves: 2000-2005
Stats With Braves: .284/.348/.409, 57 HR, 292 RBI, 554 RS

I was always disappointed in Furcal. I liked the Rookie of the Year Furcal, who got on base at a .394 clip. Whatever happened to that guy? One theory is that he started to swing for the fences more. But that shouldn’t have killed his walk rate, even though he was evidently trying to hit homers. I think it was probably Merv Rettenmund’s fault, but then I blame Rettenmund for most things. Rettenmund, of course, was the genius who decided to (a) tinker with a Rookie of the Year with a .394 OBP’s swing, and (b) after that didn’t work tried to get him to stop switch-hitting. Rettenmund was an ass, and would not be on the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves coaches list.

Anyway, Furcal was actually 20 when he signed with the Braves but lied about his age. He rose through the ranks at the normal rate, moving from second to short along the way, and briefly played at Greenville. He won a spot out of spring training in 2000. The plan was for him to back up Quilvio Veras at second and Walt Weiss at short, but Furcal wound up playing short most every day (Lockhart taking over after Veras went down) and won the Rookie of the Year award. Furcal fell down pretty much across the board in 2001 and then got hurt, leading to the stupid acquisition of Rey-Rey Sanchez, who is not one of the 400 Not Greatest Atlanta Braves, ranking 874th right behind Brian Kowitz. Furcal played just about the same, but more, in 2002.

In 2003 he started to raise his level a little bit, adding some significant power with 15 homers and hitting for a little higher average, though he still didn’t walk enough. Most impressive may have been going 25 for 27 on stolen bases. He went 29 for 35 the next year but on the whole didn’t play quite as well. He got off to a terrible start in 2005 (except on the basepaths, where he stole 46 of 56 and set the Atlanta career record) but was hot in the second half and made himself a ton of money with a free agent contract with the Dodgers. He played well last year but nobody much noticed.

Offensively, Furcal was a slightly below-average hitter for most of his Atlanta career, but gets bonuses for his outstanding stolen base success rate and for his defense. Early in his career he made a lot of errors but they didn’t really cost the team much. Later on, he cut that down, and he always had great range and a terrific arm.

Rafael Furcal Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

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29 thoughts on “#16: Rafael Furcal”

  1. A Brian Kowitz sighting! I thought I was the only one who remembered that guy.

    As far as Furcal is concerned, I still say Blauser ranks ahead of him, but it’s close.

  2. I’ll discuss it more thoroughly when I write up Marcus, but he has been a significantly better hitter than Furcal and a slightly better hitter and significantly better defensive player than Blauser. I’m not 100 percent comfortable with where Blauser ranks, but to me Giles has to rank above Furcal.

  3. One of my favorite players. His rookie season was very fun to watch. He would bunt, slap, steal bases, take walks, and just about everything else you would want a lead-off hitter to do. I remember when he slapped a ball into the ground against Pittsburgh his rookie year that ended up being a 98 foot double. Very fun player to watch.

    Unfortunately he decided he wanted to hit for power more. He was hard to watch in 2002. He was REALLY fun to watch second half of 2005.

  4. Going into this season, I figured the lost of Furcal wouldn’t hurt all that much, and I’d spent most of the winter arguing that the Braves were right to let him walk. Boy, was I wrong.

    (About the impact of him leaving, I mean, not necessarily the “right to let him walk” part. 13 million is a lot.)

    I severely underrated Furcal’s defense. Renteria was as good or better with the bat, but his arm was average and he had no range at all. I was watching the NLDS, and Furcal went into medium left to catch a pop-up. I didn’t think anything of it at first — but then I blinked, and realized “Dude, Renteria doesn’t get anywhere near that ball.”

    The amount of runs the Braves lost on defense going from Furcal to Renteria is probably not quantifiable, but my intuition says that it was probably a lot.

  5. I agree with Mac. Furcal was an absolutely dominant player his rookie year, with his ability to get on base and then just totally blow up the opposition with his speed. He was never as good after that and his defense was erratic, but what an arm. I sat behind first base last year at a Braves game here in Washington and watching Furcal throw from shortstop was actually sort of scary. But overall, while a good player, he was not worth what the Dodgers paid for him.

  6. @#11

    I don’t know Marc, .300 .369 .445 814 is a pretty good offensive line. 15 hrs in Chavez Ravine? Good power from a ss. Given what I think is going to happen this winter in the FA market the contract the Dodgers gave him may end up looking like a bargain.

    Lots of deserved criticism of Furcal when he started swinging from th heels but it was that unusual amount of power from a SS combined with Giles that masked our suckiness at the corner outfield positions and to some degree first base. Like a few others I’ve come to appreciate more after he left. Renteria had a good year for us but I bet that Furcal out performs him for the next 3 to 5 years.

  7. Yeah, definitely not worth his contract now. It’s interesting how the market for a player’s position in any given offseason makes differences of MILLIONS of dollars on his contract. If Furcal had been an FA when there were several good shortstops in the market, I wonder what he would have gotten…

  8. Furcal may out-perform Renteria for the next 3-5 years, but will he out-perform Yunel Escobar and Elvis Andrus? I don’t think anyone expects Renteria to be here in 3 years, especially if Escobar or Andrus develops into a star.

  9. I’m not saying that we could or should have resigned Furcal at the money the Dodgers were offering. But there are rumblings that this FA season is going to be a sellers market. Lesser players out there are going to get more money than Furcal. You cannot predict the market but after this FA season folks are going to say that he is a bargain.

    As for Renteria I expect him to be here for the duration of his contract. At his age, the money he is making and his imminent decline phase coming on he’ll be un moveable.

    Andrus at Rome. 265 .324 .362
    Escobar at Miss. .264 .361 .346

    nothing special. Yes Furcal will out perform both of them.

  10. Keep in mind that Andrus just turned 18 in August. Escobar is a little less projectable for above-average…ness but Andrus is only 18, and hit .295/.377/.398 in Rookies at 17, whereas Furcal hit .258/.335/.342 in Rookies as a 20 year old. So, ya never know…

  11. I miss Raffy’s arm. I remember watching Game 4 of last year’s NLDS and through the ups and downs of that game hoping it wouldn’t be the last game I saw Furcal in a Braves uniform. One of my first thoughts after that Christ Burke homerun was “If we don’t resign Raffy, I’ll realize how much I have taken his arm and range for granted for the last few years.”

    His rookie year was amazing. I too wish he had stayed with the “put it in play and run” attitude, as it was fun to watch the defense scramble to try to get him. I sure hope he doesn’t rediscover that weapon of his in any games he plays against us now, especially with a frail Chipper at third.

  12. Furcal:
    Low A .337 .417 .397
    High A .293 .343 .375
    Next season majors with the aforementioned 2003 season.
    .295 .394 .382

    Andrus at Rome. 265 .324 .362 Low A. Aren’t you supposed to improve as you go through the levels?

    You’re right of course, ya never know.

  13. My theory on where Furcal’s walks went: remember that in 2001 mlb cracked down on strike zone enforcement, taking away the low and away strike, and mandating that umpires call the official high strike. When Furcal started, he squatted and bent at the waist so that his perceived strike zone looked about a foot high, and umpires called pitches balls that were really almost waist high for him if he stood up straight. By around 2003, Furcal was getting a lot more medium-high pitches called strikes on him than before, and his squatting act wasn’t working. Maybe at some point he figured that since high pitches were going to get called strikes, he ought to normalize his stance and start driving those pitches.

    BTW, the change in strike zone enforcement was in my mind a big blow against the Braves-Mazonne pitching style. Maddux and Glavine for years counted on having pitches 4-6 inches off the plate outside called strikes. Then quickly, it was gone. (I also think that in the postseason, the strike zone gets closer scrutiny, which may have been a disadvantage for certain Braves pitchers during the run).

    This is an untested hypothesis, but I think it’s worth exploring.

  14. There may be something to that, though I think it’s mostly washed out of the game. I recall noting that Luis Castillo was having similar problems to Furcal at the time. (Castillo’s batting average dropped 71 points, his OBP 74 between 2000 and 2001, and in general has walked somewhat less this century than last.) Also, Marcus, another small player, has never walked as much as his minor league numbers indicated.

  15. Johnny,

    You are probably right about Furcal, although he did struggle again in the first part of the year this year. But he did put up overall good numbers. His rookie year spoiled me–I really thought he would be the kind of guy you saw in the 80s, because there were times he would drive the opposition crazy on the bases.

    By the way, one thing that always bugged me. When Furcal was with the Braves, commentators would always say the Braves record was x and x when Furcal scored a run and not as good when he didn’t, implying that there was something especially important about Furcal scoring. But I assume that you could say that about anyone on the team–the Braves record is better when people score runs than when they don’t. Why would Furcal scoring a run be more important than anyone else? Wouldn’t the proper metric be to compare the team’s runs when he played with the runs when he didn’t?

  16. What was the deal with Sanchez? I thought he was supposed to be a great defensive player and his offensive numbers looked pretty good before coming to Atlanta. He was awful both offensively and defensively. Were his numbers before Atlanta a complete aberration? Where is he now?

  17. Is the jury still out on Eddie Giavanola? I always loved his apple-red cheeks, but they sort of blinded me as to whether he ever deserved playing time. How did he compare?

  18. I think that sometimes the walk rates might drop because pitcher in the big leagues have better control than pitcher in the minors, especially the low minors.

  19. Point being that Furcal’s walk rate dropped (dramatically) from his rookie season to his second, which is extremely unusual.

    Eddie G: Good walk rate, no power. His AAA stats are very good but I think major league pitchers just blew the bat out of his hands. With his baserunning skills he would have had a career if he could have hit .270.

  20. if anyone cares

    Aramis Ramirez Opts For Free Agency

    It’s been reported by Bruce Levine on ESPN 1000 in Chicago that Aramis Ramirez has opted out of his contract and filed for free agency.

  21. Mac, kudos for busting out a Kowitzer reference :-)

    Furcal’s the kind of player it’s easy to undervalue. Shortstop in the NL has been a weak position, and so Furcal was near the top of his position. Once you factor in defense I agree with mac that he should be above Blauser. I don’t think I realized how good his defense was until I saw renteria play (I think I never realized how good Lemke’s defense was until he was gone). I wouldn’t have ponied up the cash to match the Dodgers’ offer, though, but losing him still hurt. Of course, the price difference between Renteria and Furcal is what is now buying us Bob Wickman. We’ll see if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

    A.West – intersting theory on the strike zone. As Mac says the enforcement fizzled, but the effects for Furcal’s swing may have been more long-lasting.

    Furcal was another example of a good Braves hitter who took October off. To that end, one of my favorite memories of Furcal was the one postseason out of 6 when he played well, hitting .381 while singlehandedly trying to extend the postseason for as long as he could before checking into jail for his DUI. Unfortunately for Raffy, neiter JD Drew not Chipper nor Marcus not Jaret Wright nor Russ Ortiz were scheduled to go to jail the day after the playoffs got over.

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