Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jake Takes On: Sam Fuld, Rays Outfielder and Fellow Stat-head

This offseason has been a very interesting one, with the signings and numerous trades that have occured. One of which being the trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs. Many people look at that trade and just think it was Matt Garza and a couple of players to the Cubs for 5 prospects, but in reality it involved 2 of the brightest minds in baseball. Those 2 bright minds are Fernando Perez and Sam Fuld.

In the past, Sam did an interview with Baseball Prospectus and showed baseball fans that Brian Bannister wasn't the only player in the majors that is a "stat-head". After getting traded to the Rays, Sam did a podcast with Jonah Keri and it basically made me put Sam's name at the top of the list of people I'd like to interview. I was able to get into contact with him and he obliged my wishes to interview him. I've got to say that this interview has got to be one of my personal favorites that I've done as a blogger.

So sit down with your cup of coffee, mountain dew, what-have-you and enjoy!

Jake- For Rays fans who aren't familiar with you, who is Sam Fuld? What position do you play and what special skillsets do you feel that you give to the Rays?

Sam- I've always been an overachiever who gets the most out of his physical ability. Ever since I was in high school, I've known that I would have to do the little things to get noticed by recruiters, scouts, etc. My style of play hasn't changed, so you'll see me diving for balls in the outfield, taking an extra base on the basepaths and doing whatever I can to get on base.

JL- You come from the same hometown as Jonah Keri, who is a fan-favorite writer of Rays fans. How did you end up playing baseball, rather than football or hockey(2 sports that are more frequently played in a Northeastern state like New Hampshire).

SF- It's not that people don't play baseball in New Hampshire, it's just that the season is so short. Baseball is very popular there, and with both of my parents being fans, playing baseball was a no-brainer for me as a child. Our town actually didn't have a youth football program, so I played soccer along with everyone else. I played basketball, too, which was a horrible decision given my (lack of) height.

JL- You've shared stories of your childhood, in which you'd calculate baseball stats at a very young age. Which were your favorite stats then? Now, especially with your more sabermetrically-inclined background, what is a favorite baseball stat? Is it a traditional stat or a Baseball Prospectus-esque stat?

SF- I think like most fans back in the '80s and '90s I fell in love with the batting average. I just remember being so amazed that Wade Boggs could hit .360 year in and year out. Now there are a lot of new stats that I find interesting, especially the ones on the defensive side like UZR and +/-. But I would say my favorite stat is runs scored. Sometimes with all these new metrics it's easy to lose sight of how to win baseball games (by scoring more runs than the other team). It may not the most accurate measure of a player's success, but it's still something I pay close to attention to.

JL- You may not have the prototypical body or size of most big leaguers, but players like that(Pedroia, Pudge Rodriguez) always seem to use that as a "chip" on their shoulders and end up becoming huge stars. Do you use "trash-talk" regarding your smaller stature as fuel to make you a better player and makes you play harder?

SF- I don't know if I ever had a chip on my shoulder, but I was always realistic with myself. I knew that with my size I would have to work and play that much harder to be successful.

JL- You are one of the currently major leaguers who play with diabetes. How do you go about that? You've said in past interviews that you check levels during the game, but do you also receive insulin treatments during games?

SF- I check my blood sugar with a finger-poke several times during a game. If necessary (my blood sugar is too high), I'll give myself an insulin injection, as well. While I'm playing, my goal is to keep my blood sugar in the 150 range, which is slightly higher than what non-diabetics keep theirs in. It's when my levels get below 80 that I start to feel weak, shaky, irritable, etc.

JL- Most people don't know this, but you are the son of a college administrator and also a senator. Do you have any ideas of what you'd like to do post-baseball? Would you like to dabble in politics? School admin.? Stats Inc.?

SF- Two of the three interest me. I don't ever see myself getting into politics (no offense, Mom) but I've always been intrigued by the notion of teaching/coaching or by staying in the game on the stats side. Like so many other ballplayers, I would also be interested in working in the front office a Major League organization. Hopefully not too soon, though!

JL- How and when were you notified that you were traded to the Rays? Did Hendry/your agent call you first or did Andrew Friedman?

SF- Jim Hendry first contacted me about the trade, and just a couple hours later I spoke with Andrew Friedman. By the afternoon, the news had leaked publicly and that's when all my family and friends began contacting me.

JL- I could be wrong, but I believe that there was a story that a sign saying "Moonlight Graham" was hung above your locker in your earlier days with the Cubs. Did you ever feel that you were going to have that happen to you or were you assured that you'd definitely get at-bats in the long-run?

SF- That September was my first big-league experience, and I knew my role that month was going to be as a pinch-runner and late inning defensive replacement. But let me tell you that those first two and a half weeks before I got an AB felt like two and a half years. I was so fired up when I finally got an AB that I missed a take sign, weakly grounded back to the pitcher and got yelled at by Lou coming back to the dugout. Not how I had planned it.

JL- You were part of a trade that involved fellow super-scholar athlete, Fernando Perez. Have you ever met 'Nando and talked to him? I'm sure a convo between the 2 of you could be about a wide variety of subjects.

SF- I've never met him. I remember playing against him in AA and being really jealous of how fast he was. He also hit the first pitch of a game over the CF fence, and I remember thinking, "I'll never be able to do that in my entire career."

JL- You have also been most known for your gutsy leaps and defensive play, do you ever get a sinking feeling in your stomach that you're going to crash hard into a wall or do you just play "balls-out" and let whatever happens happen?

SF- My mindset is simple when a ball is hit to me. I try to get to it as quickly as possible, and any collateral damage I suppose I'll have to deal with later. It makes for some ugly collisions, but I've lived to tell about them

JL- With your love of baseball stats since childhood and your internship at Stats Inc. as a reporter, how hard is it to turn off the analyst switch on the field? I'm sure that the video-reviewing can be either a positive or a negative for a hitter. Does your past help you or hinder you when slumps possibly occur? Does it make things easier to identify?

SF- I think video analysis and statistical analysis are two completely different things. I'll use video to look at mechanics, but I never use stats to lift me out of a slump- there's just not enough of a sample size for it to be worthwhile. When I'm on the field, it's easy for me to shut off the stats aspect of baseball.

JL- Can you explain your approach in a normal at-bat? Are you a "grinder", in which you "take" with balls you see that are very much out of the strikezone and foul off pitches until you get the pitch you want to hit? Or do you just look for pitches that you can hit?

SF- Outside of specific RBI situations, my goal is to get on base however I can. I think you have to strike a balance with aggressiveness and patience at the plate, so I'll never go up there looking to just take pitches. I'm always ready to hit a pitch that's left out over the plate, but certain situations definitely call for being a little more patient (e.g. wild pitcher, new pitcher, I don't feel too good at the plate).

JL- What is something about you that many baseball fans don't know about you?

SF- I'm not sure many baseball fans know anything about me, so I guess that's kind of an easy question. But I always like to point out that my wife is actually a better athlete than me. She won two college national championships as a goalie in lacrosse.

JL- Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?

SF- Growing up a Red Sox fan, I always loved Wade Boggs, Mike Greenwell and Ellis Burks. Later on I loved watching Nomar Garciaparra.

JL- You had quite a Winter League stint in your past, in which you were tops/or near-tops in batting average while walking twice as many times as you did striking out. Did you have any trouble adjusting to playing in a foreign country, where english isn't the primary language?

SF- The culture shock wore off after about two weeks in Venezuela, and after that I really felt comfortable. I knew some Spanish from school and from playing with so many Spanish-speaking ballplayers in the U.S., so that helped. But I made a point to immerse myself in their culture and by the end I loved arepas and their national anthem and even the not-so-warm showers.

JL- How do you spend your offseason and when do you start preparing for the season?

SF- Every offseason has been markedly different from the previous, but this one I spent buying a home in Jupiter, FL and then trying to furnish it. We're not far from the beach, so my wife and I will go over there quite a bit with our one-year-old son. I hit the weight room pretty soon after the season ends, and I start throwing and hitting right around the New Year.

JL- If you weren't playing baseball, you'd be...

SF- Teaching high school math and coaching JV basketball.

JL- Any passing comments that you'd like to leave with Rays/Cubs/baseball fans?

SF- Playing in Wrigley was an unbelievable experience, one that I'll surely miss. It was a rush every time I stepped onto the field there, and those fans had a large part in that. I'm looking forward to hopefully playing in Tampa Bay and helping them continue their recent success.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


  1. [Editor's Note: JL]: Jonah Keri is actually from Montreal, Quebec and not Durham, NH.

  2. But Jonah Keri currently lives in Durham, NH, according to the podcast interview.

  3. It’s great conception to do internet page like that! Very untypical articles and fine graphic.

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