Missing Furcal

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 21: Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits an RBI single against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on July 21, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. Seriously, this swing produced a hit. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

On Thursday night, Rafael Furcal ranged to his right on a grounder, fielded the ball cleanly, and through threw across his body to second base for a force out. It was a nice play, of the type Cardinals fans have seen the veteran shortstop make dozens of times since joining the Cardinals last year. This time, however, Furcal felt a pop followed by a tingling sensation. After having Furcal attempt a throw, manager Mike Matheny removed the shortstop from the game. Furcal injured his ulnar collateral ligament and will likely miss the rest of the regular season.

In the wake of the injury, Matheny and Furcal's teammates gave quotes that reflected the respect they have for Furcal as both a player and a teammate. Losing the man who gave us "Happy Flight" will cause a gap in "energy and positivity," according to the Cardinals manager. On top of his personality, the Cardinals will miss his bat.

The trajectory of Furcal's season has been well-documented. A white-hot early season that saw a peak of .383/.447/.519 in mid-May has given way to a slump both long and deep. By the time Furcal took the field as the National League's starting shortstop at the All-Star game, he was hitting .275/.337/.364. Furcal's baseball card will have a .264 average on it and his Baseball Reference page a .325 on-base percentage with a .346 slugging percentage. In the context of the Cardinals' excellent lineup, this seems poor. Compared to his shortstopping peers, it's about average.

Shortstop

K%

BB%

BABIP

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

MLB

16.5%

6.5%

.292

.254

.307

.375

.682

.121

.299

85

Furcal

10.5%

8.3%

.289

.264

.325

.346

.671

.082

.299

88

Difference

-6.0%

+1.8%

-.003

+.010

+.018

-.029

-.011

-.039

+/- 0

+3

This offensive line is valuable coming from a shortstop. Furcal has posted a 1.1-fWAR season. By Fangraphs bucks, he has had a value of about $5.1 million to the Cardinals; or, 85 percent of his $6 million salary in about 81 percent of the team games Furcal spent on the active roster.

As a fan, I'm going to miss the way in which Furcal put up these numbers. I'm going to miss the flair he played with. Above all, I'm going to miss his uncanny ability to make contact when swinging. While his vicious swings-and-misses stick out in one's memory the reality is that throwing the ball past the veteran Furcal is a very difficult task.

Furcal swung at 43.2 percent of the pitches he saw this season, which is below the league average swing rate of 45.9 percent. What's remarkable is Furcal's Contact % when swinging. In 2012, the league average Contact % is 79.9 percent. This year, Furcal has made contact with 90.0 percentage of the pitches he's taken a hack at. This leads the Cardinals and is thirteenth amongst Major League hitters who qualify for the batting title. On the flip side of the coin, Furcal has a Swinging Strike % of just 4.2 percent, which is tied with Ichiro Suzuki for the eleventh lowest in the big leagues.

Watching Furcal in the field last season was a breath of fresh air after having been subjected to the stone hands, complete lack of range, and pathetic throwing arm of Ryan Theriot. This season, Furcal has given us flashes of the rangy shortstop with a rocket arm he once was even if his fielding has clearly been negatively impacted by his problematic back and the radiating pain that has reportedly accompanied it. For my money, the most enjoyable Furcal play was during Game 5 of the 2011 Divisional Series.

Despite a sinking batting line and lessening mobility, Furcal was a valuable player for the Cardinals. The club will have trouble replacing him with utility man Daniel Descalso, former prospect Pete Kozma, and Triple-A starter Ryan Jackson. Whatever their offensive and defensive contributions, one thing is for sure, none of them will be as fun to watch.

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