For all the analysis of Matt Garza’s potential impact with the Cubs, and the skillsets of new Rays prospects Chris Archer, Robinson Chirinos, Brandon Guyer, and Hak-Ju Lee, the most interesting character in the eight-player deal may well be Sam Fuld.
The 29-year-old native of Durham, New Hampshire is a walk-taking speed merchant, a Stanford economics grad, pursuer of a Masters degree in statistics, fighter of diabetes, and lover of pizza bagels. Fuld took a few minutes to chat about his expectations with the Rays, his keen interest in stats and baseball analysis, and the value of playing the game without thinking. (You can listen to the full interview here.)
Jonah Keri: How did you first get into looking at baseball stats and thinking about the game on that level?
Fuld: Before I could even read, I could do my times tables. I always enjoyed numbers, I always liked math. Obviously baseball is a great sport to incorporate numbers. I was always into the numbers side of the game. I had these little baseball handbooks where I would just sit there and memorize stats for different ballplayers. I was six years old! It was, I guess, an odd hobby for a six-year-old, but it just felt right. I always had a passion for it.
After college, I realized, “man, this is a growing thing.” I read Moneyball, I loved it. I think that was when I realized, this stuff is relevant, I’m not the only one who thinks like this, there are other people out there like that. That sparked a fire a little bit, to follow the growth of stats in baseball. And I’ve followed it since.
Keri: Then there’s the church and state idea, when you’re out on the field, that you try to shut [statistical thinking] out. Do you feel it needs to go that way?
Fuld: I think baseball, in a way, the more brain-dead you are on the field, the more success you have. Which is why you see some big old dummies who are Hall of Famers (laughs). That’s the way it goes. There is a time to think on the field, but when you’re in the batter’s box, it’s all reaction. Maybe there’s an opportunity when you’re in the dugout to think on the stats side, but really your job is simple as a player, and ultimately you have to do what your manager expects you to do.
I suppose it depends on who your manager is, and who your front office is. I came up in the Cubs system, and they’re probably not as involved in the statistics side of the game as some other organizations. It still is important to me to get on base, even though (laughs) there were some guys who, all they cared about was my average.
Keri: Were they telling you, “be aggressive, be aggressive, swing, swing, swing?”
Fuld: Yeah, I definitely got a lot of that sort of instruction. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality. You have to please your boss before anybody else. That’s one of the things I’m actually looking forward to in going to the Rays, is maybe a little more advanced thinking when it comes to the numbers of baseball.
Keri: You did an internship at Stats, Inc. What was your role there?
Fuld: I was in operations. I would watch game tape, and I would do their PVL program, which is [looking at] Pitch Type/Velocity/Location. As monotonous as that sounds, I actually enjoyed it a lot. I just sat around this room with about 20 other like-minded guys who enjoyed doing exactly what I was doing, and it was pretty fun.
Keri: If you Google “Sam Fuld”, you’re going to see clips of you running around and crashing into walls. Have you ever had a really close call with a railing, or have you ever gotten your bell rung crashing into a wall? Because there’s some kamikaze to your game.
Fuld: Yeah, I remember having some interesting moments. I remember playing in Doubleday Field, in high school, on some All-Star team I was on. There’s a rail out in right-center field, I remember running full steam into it, cutting open my arm, blood going everywhere. Maybe Abner would have appreciated it.
Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.