April 21, 2011

THE BAB:

Sam Fuld’s Value to the Rays Goes Beyond Numbers (TYLER KEPNER, 4/19/11, NY Times)

Samuel Babson Fuld was 10 pounds at birth, so chunky that the nurse in the delivery room told his parents, Ken Fuld and Amanda Merrill, that their son would grow up to be a football player. They called him Sumo Sam.

He never grew into the body of a hulking lineman or a mammoth wrestler. Sumo Sam adored baseball as a child in New Hampshire, not only playing it but studying the meaning within its numbers. By age 5, he carried around The Complete Handbook of Baseball, a pocket-sized paperback with the statistics of every player in the majors. On long car rides, he would call out totals for hits and at-bats and quiz his parents on the corresponding batting average.

“It was probably a pretty odd hobby for a little kid,” Fuld said. “But it was something that always interested me.” [...]

Andrew Friedman, the Rays’ general manager, said Fuld was a gifted defensive player who ran the bases well, made contact and works good counts. And though it was incidental to the reasons for acquiring him, Fuld is also the kind of player Friedman wanted to be as an outfielder at Tulane, with similar sensibilities.

Friedman worked on Wall Street before joining the Rays, whose front office is renowned for its appreciation of statistics. In Fuld, Friedman said, “We joke that we could use him as our advance-scouting intern.”

Fuld has the background and the aptitude. Drafted in the 10th round out of Stanford in 2004, he applied for an internship at Stats LLC, outside Chicago, following his professional debut at Class A Peoria in 2005. 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.”

Fuld, who has also pursued a master’s degree in statistics from Stanford, said he always wanted to keep his options open for after his baseball career. His parents offer powerful role models: his father is the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of New Hampshire, and his mother is a New Hampshire state senator.

But baseball has directed Fuld’s path. He made the varsity as an eighth grader, and hit so well that he transferred to Exeter Academy for the athletics. He dominated there, too — usually hitting above .500, all while managing Type 1 diabetes — but a major league career seemed far-fetched.

“From when he was young, he had such a good mind for math and statistics that he’s always had a sense of how hard it is to make the major leagues,” Merrill said. “But at the same time, he stuck with his dream.”

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Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2011 5:28 AM
  
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