How good is Sam Fuld? How bad is Austin Jackson?

Every once in a while I get a question via email (cs.fb365@gmail.com) or Twitter (@CharlieSaponara) that peaks my interest. Such a question was posted this morning…

“Is Sam Fuld better fantasy option than AJackson, CocoAfro, Ben Francisco, Damon? First thought is no…but…rank please?”

The question peaked my interest because after I though about it for a minute I thought, well, maybe.

Fuld has captured the hearts and minds of the baseball world with his diving catches and gritty style. He also happens to be hitting .324/.375/.568 with seven stolen bases through mid-April. However, he is a career .285 hitter in the minor leagues with a .405 SLG. Then again, his career minor league OBP was .372 and for the past two seasons at triple-A, he has stolen over 20 bases in under 500 plate appearances.
Let’s face the facts, Fuld is not going to hit .320-plus this season. He’s more likely to finish somewhere in the .265-.275 range, but if he gets enough playing time, his 20-30 stolen bases will provide value.

Using ZiPS rest-of-season projections, how does Fuld compare to the other names in question?

Sam Fuld, ZiPS ROS – .261/.339/.373, 4 HR, 61 R, 32 RBI, 18 SB
Austin Jackson ZiPS ROS – .268/.325/.382, 7 HR, 82 R, 47 RBI, 23 SB
Coco Crisp ZiPS ROS – .256/.320/.388, 6 HR, 50 R, 30 RBI, 23 SB
Ben Francisco ZiPS ROS – .266/.327/.444, 12 HR, 47 R, 48 RBI, 11 SB
Johnny Damon ZiPS ROS – .259/.335/.407, 12 HR, 67 R, 51 RBI, 15 SB

The numbers actually look pretty close. Fuld already has the seven stolen bases, so his total in that category compared to Jackson and Crisp would be about even. However, ZiPS sees Fuld falling particularly short in the R and RBI categories. That being said, if Fuld were to continue to play nearly every day for the rest of the season and continue to bat leadoff, he would almost certainly score more than 61 runs over the next five months.

What’s interesting is how ZiPS projects Austin Jackson the rest of the way. I was not a fan of drafting Jackson in 2011, but still had him projected at .286/.330/.395 with 25 stolen bases. ZiPS pretty much agrees, but sees a worse outcome in the AVG category due to his sluggish start. Last season, Jackson got off to a tremendous start, due mostly to the fact that he was hitting line drives at an incredible pace — something close or over 30 percent in April 2010. He finished with a 24 percent line-drive rate. This season, however, Jackson’s line-drive rate sits at a miserable 6.3 percent. Surely that will rise at some point, but the low line drive rate combined with 16 strikeouts in 49 at-bats means that Jackson has been legitimately bad to start the 2011 season. Right now, for the short-term at least, I’d actually rather have Sam Fuld.

With Crisp the issue is and will likely be injuries. He’s already missed time with a back problem and his track record suggests that there will probably be more injuries to come as the season progresses. Because of that, I’d rather have Sam Fuld.

Ben Francisco is off to an OK start and the fact that Domonic Brown is still out with a hand injury keeps his place in the lineup secure. However, he is a career .263/.329/.445 hitter and not likely to excel in either the HR or SB category whereas Fuld will most likely net you around 20 more steals. So, yeah, I’d rather have Sam Fuld.

Johnny Damon may be the one person on this list that I’d still roster above Fuld. he could match Fuld in the AVG category and come close in the SB category, but deliver perhaps 10 or so more home runs with similar runs scored numbers and more RBI.

The bottom line is that Sam Fuld, while due for some regression, is in a good spot. He has earned the trust of his manager and has the speed to steal 20-30 bases over a full season. There could be a playing time issue when Desmond Jennings gets the call from triple-A, but we’ll cross that bridge when (if) it happens. For now, it’s fine to run with Fuld and see what happens.

Ranked:
Johnny Damon
Sam Fuld
Austin Jackson
Ben Francisco
Coco Crisp