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Not a Jock – Sam Fuld

May 6, 2011

Short Diabetic Statisticians Can Fly!

Sam Fuld has played above his head. He’s been a wonderful story so far, but a player with a career minor league slugging percentage of .405 who was old for each level of the minors won’t keep up his legendary status among baseball fans or even Rays fans. Since a 4-for-4 game against the White Sox on April 18th that raised his batting average to a season-high .396 and his OPS to 1.035, Fuld hit a 9-for-62 skid (as of May 5th), and is currently at .261, and will be relegated, most likely, to Fernando Perez-type status soon. Fourth outfielder with speed, possible defensive replacement. Oddly, Perez was included in the trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs and Sam Fuld (along with Chris Archer and Hak-Ju Lee to the Rays. Oddly again, Perez has his own Not-a-Jock column here.

But Sam Fuld is insanely mega-fun to watch, and kinda constitutes a nerd, and warms my damn heart. And he’s not a typical jock. For example:

*He’s Jewish. Not that being a member of the tribe makes one unjockish. But if one, um, wants to propagate stereotypes, then uh, the shortish guy who’s obsessed with stats, like, say, me, uh, fits into that. Baseball Reference lists his official height as 5’10”, but Fuld himself admits to being between 5’8” and 5’9”, reserving the “right to round up.” As for the bookish side of him: After Fuld tore his labrum in his penultimate game for Stanford in 2004, he had to put on-field activities on hold for a while, despite being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round that June. So after reading Michael Lewis’s seminal Moneyball, Fuld applied for an internship at STATS LLC, based outside of Chicago. The New York Times:

Joe Stillwell, a supervisor in data collection, sent Fuld a tape to analyze, asking him to track the type of pitch, the velocity and the location.

The internship would last only a month or two, so Stillwell needed a person who would not require much training. He picked a challenging pitcher for Fuld to analyze: Cory Lidle, who threw four different pitches at similar speeds, including a splitter and a changeup, which are often difficult to distinguish. Fuld logged in remotely, entered his findings, and easily passed the test.

“Seeing what he could decipher watching a game, he was almost too good to be true,” Stillwell said. “We needed to figure out a way to get him in here.”

Lots of ink has been poured over the cult-hero Brian Bannister’s love of sabermetrics, but Fuld has a better statistician’s resume. In that, you know, he actually became a STATS reporter:

 “I was one of their reporters, which meant that I looked at game video and plotted the ‘TVL’ — type, velocity and location — of every pitch,” Fuld said. “They have this grid where you click on exactly where the ball crosses the plate. Play the tape, pause and repeat…It sounds tedious, and it was, but for whatever reason I handled it…I guess there’s a lot of baseball nerds out there.”

Yes. Yes there are. And you, sir, are one of them. /genuflects.

*He’s diabetic. Well, a lot of ballplayers are. Among other active players, Brandon Morrow, Mark Lowe, Michael Taylor, and Dustin McGowan; most famously, the late, great Ron Santo. Fuld injects himself with insulin four to five times a day.

*Dude went to Phillips Exeter Academy. What the hell? Who goes to Exeter and becomes a professional baseball player? Here’s who f-ing went to Exeter: Franklin Pierce, David Rockefeller, George Plimpton, John Irving, James Agee, Gore Vidal, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Mark Frickin Zuckerberg. A bunch of nerds.

*He majored in economics at Stanford. Christ almighty. At least it was Stanford and not Princeton like this guy, this guy, or this guy. Then I’d start feeling terrible about myself. Following the 2006 season, Fuld began a masters statistics program at his alma mater, and wants to complete his grad degree in it.

*His father, Kenneth, is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire. And he’s also a psychology professor. I can’t imagine being the son of a psychology professor and becoming a professional athlete.

Father: “How was the game today?”

Son: “Not bad, I went 2-for-4 with a double and a stolen base.”

Father: “How did you feel after you stole that base?”

Son: “Um.”

Father: “Maybe those two hits were really just an oedipal act of aggression.”

Son: /cries self to sleep.

*His mother, Amanda Merrill, is a New Hampshire state senator. And she’s a Democrat! And she’s an environmentalist! This is so wonderful, I can’t begin to explain. What’s that? Let’s see some bills she’s sponsored? Ok, here you go:

HB-311, concerning solar energy findings, its efficiency, and impact on businesses.

HB149, designating segments of the Lamprey, North Branch, Pawtuckaway, North, Little, and Piscassic Rivers as protected rivers and exempting certain portions of the Lamprey River from the provisions of the comprehensive shoreland protection act.

SB47, extending the commission to study water infrastructure sustainability fund.

Does this possibly mean that Sam Fuld might be that rare uber-environmentalist professional athlete? He’s got a fantastic role model if so.

*His favorite TV show is Mad Men. Seriously. A show about advertising executives during the profound cultural change of the early 1960s, in which nothing really happens. A show beloved by, well, nerdy wonks.

Fuld may not be long for the big leagues, and may find ample time to pursue that master’s in statistics; so it’s quite possible that Andrew Friedman finds a position for him in the front office. And then he’ll put solar panels on the Rays’ new stadium, invent a definitive defensive metric we’ve all been waiting for, and will trump Wrasslin’ John Irving as Exeter’s celebrated jock.

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