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Can Sam Fuld Lead the Tampa Bay Rays to the Promised Land?

by Wendy Thurm on April 18, 2011

In California, it’s just hours before the first night of Passover, the Jewish holiday that commemorates Moses’ heroic efforts to free the Jews from slavery in Egypt and lead them to Israel–the Promised Land.  You may know the story best as depicted in the Cecil B. DeMille classic film The Ten Commandments: Charlton Heston as Moses, Edmund G. Robinson at Dathan, the turncoat Jew, and Yul Brynner as Ramses, the Egyptian Pharaoh.  I’ve probably seen the film 30 times or so, but I had not watched it in a long time before sitting down with my 7 year old this weekend for the full 3 1/2 hour show. Jewish or not, if you’ve never seen The Ten Commandments, do yourself a favor and rent it.


After this most recent viewing, my thoughts turned to Moses and the crazy life he lead: twenty or so years as a prince of Egypt; an Egyptian slave (after discovering his Jewish heritage); a contented shepherd; a reluctant prophet; a fearless leader; a mere mortal.  Was Moses destined for greatness?  Was he just in the right place at the right time?  Or wrong place at wrong time? Or wrong place at right time?


All of this thinking about Moses lead me, of course, to the Legend of Sam Fuld.  OK, that’s a bit over the top, but perhaps not more so than many of the Legend of Sam Fuld tweets circulating on the inter-webs. Like Moses, Fuld is Jewish. Like Moses, Fuld has had his ups and downs: Fuld’s been living with Type I diabetes since he was kid. He was a star center fielder for Stanford University’s baseball team and broke the school record for runs scored, but also hit the books, graduating with a degree in economics. He played his first major league game in 2007, for the Chicago Cubs, but then only played 97 more major league games for the Cubs between 2007 and 2010.


With the Cubs, Fuld was known for his speed and his spectacular, diving catches in the outfield, often at peril to his own body. In 65 games for the Cubs in 2009, he posted a very respectable .299/.409/.412 slashline, but didn’t make the team in 2010 and spent most of the year at AAA. In just 19 games in 2010, Fuld’s numbers fell to .143/.226/.179. Fuld was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the off-season.


The Rays started the year 0-6, with Fuld on the bench, Johnny Damon in left field and Manny Ramirez as the DH. Manny retired to avoid a likely 100-game suspension for a second positive PED test. Damon was struggling. Manager Joe Maddon was shuffling his lineup. And Fuld got his chance. He has not disappointed.


Fuld’s spectacular diving outfield grabs have been even more spectacular. But his hitting, so far, has been a revelation. In 54 plate appearances for the Rays, Fuld has 4 walks, 10 singles, 5 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run. His slash is .347/.389/.551 and he has 7 stolen bases.


If Fuld sticks as the Rays’ everyday left fielder, he will have big shoes to fill. Carl Crawford patrolled left field for the Rays for nine seasons and had an average slash line of .296/.337/.444 to accompany his well-above average defense. Crawford was a big part of the Rays’ success over the last few seasons.


Bradley Woodrum at Fangraphs projects Fuld’s defense as his more significant contribution to the Rays this season. I’m not so sure. The only season in which Fuld played even somewhat regularly–2009 for the Cubs–he batted just under .300 and slugged .412.  Those aren’t the slugging numbers the Rays got out of Carl Crawford for nine years. But if Fuld can produce in 150 games for the Rays the way he produced for the Cubs in 65 games in 2009, and maintain his above-average defense, Fuld will be a long way toward helping the Rays to contend in 2011.


Is Fuld in the right place at the right time? Is he a reluctant prophet or a mere mortal?  Whether Fuld can help deliver the Rays to the post-season–the Promised Land–we’ll have to wait and see. Miracles do happen, you know.


Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-reference. Jonah Keri played no role in the drafting of this blog post, but I bet he wish he had.

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