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May 24, 2000
Doctoring The Numbers
The Amazing Mr. Furcal
Raves for Rafael (And the Braves)
Barely a month ago, I wrote that the Braves were taking a needless risk in rushing Rafael Furcal straight from A ball to the major leagues. While the financial ramifications are still going to crop up down the road, it is fairly obvious that from a talent standpoint, Bobby Cox knew exactly what he was doing. Again.
And fans should be thankful for the gamble, because it has allowed us to watch one of the greatest teenage players ever to play. How unusual is Furcal's combination of youth and speed? His 10 stolen bases already rank eighth all-time for players under age 20. The seven players ahead of him:
Name Year SB
Incidentally, Edgar Renteria is still listed by many sources as being born in 1975, not 1976, even though it is all but acknowledged that he (or the Marlins) fudged his age by one year when he signed.
With 26 runs in 43 games, Furcal is on pace to score 98 runs. The most runs scored by a teenager in a single season:
Name Year R
Furcal is also on pace to challenge the teenage record with 57 walks. Again, the record holders:
Name Year BB
What makes Furcal's feats--and feet--more impressive is that he is only playing part-time. On a per-at-bat basis, Furcal, at .324/.405/.378, is as productive as any teenager ever. Only four teenagers in history have hit .300 with at least 300 plate appearances:
Name Year Avg
And no teenager has ever posted a .400 OBP:
Name Year OBP
How unusual is it for a team as competitive as the Braves to break in such a young player? Consider this: of the 70 teams in history who won 100 or more games, exactly one, the 1936 Chicago Cubs, gave even 60 at-bats to a teenager. And those Cubs had a ready excuse: Phil Cavaretta, who was 19 when he batted 458 times in 1936, had already been a regular in 1935, when he hit .275 with eight home runs in the most productive season by an 18-year-old ever.
As an aside, was Cavaretta the Cesar Cedeno of the 1930s? Can you imagine what we'd say today about an 18-year-old who plays 146 games for a pennant-winning team with an OPS above league average? While Cavaretta finished just shy of 2,000 hits and won a batting title and an MVP award, both in war-torn 1945, he hit just 95 homers in his career. He hit eight homers at age 18, and finished with a career high of just 10.
If we expand the search to include the 305 teams defending a first-place finish from the previous season, only eight gave at least 100 at-bats to a teenage position player:
Year Team Player AB
That's right. This is only the ninth time in history that a team has attempted to defend its title with a teenage hitter in the lineup...and the second time that the Braves have done it in five years.
Rany Jazayerli, M.D., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.