Right fielder Kosuke Fukudome is on a different team in Chicago, as the Chicago White Sox have signed the former Cub to a one-year deal worth $1 million. Fukudome will make $500K this year and has a $3.5 million club option for the 2013 season. That option, however, includes a $500K buyout, so Fukudome is guaranteed $1 million to be a solid source of outfield depth for the Sox.
In 603 PAs of action last season, Fukudome was worth -0.2 WAR and had his worst defensive season yet. His defense isn’t rated highly by any metric, despite the reputation the Japanese right fielder garners. Fukudome owns a league-average, career wRC+ of 100, and his wRC+ of 93 in 2011 represented a drop off from his previous two seasons. He gets on base at a high rate (career-low .342 OBP last year), even though he had the lowest walk rate of his career at 10.1%. Fukudome had a .316 BABIP, but, as usual his batting average was .262.
While Fukudome is barely going to get double-digit home runs, he’s still useful as a depth outfielder with his ability to draw walks and get on base. OBP is the most important individual statistic for a hitter, and it isn’t easy to find a .350 OBP guy who can slot in and help your ballclub.
As for the projection systems, Bill James and RotoChamp view Kosuke Fukudome as a 0.6 WAR player, while the nine fans on FanGraphs believe that Fukudome is a 0.8 WAR player. Most of Fukudome’s value comes from a bat that is rated as league-average, and this is only because of the walks and the projected .347 OBP (.323 wOBA). Fukudome won’t offer much in terms of power, but power isn’t the only- or best- way to measure a hitter’s ability.
Kosuke Fukudome will give the Chicago White Sox some solid depth in the outfield, and no sane person would expect him to start. He is the kind of bench outfielder who can help a team out with his bat, and he might even get the nod at DH from time to time. Fukudome’s ability to work the count makes him a useful pinch-hitter in high-leverage situations when a walk is critical.
If there is any number that can best illustrate Fukudome’s patience, then it is his career O-Swing%. He chases a bad pitch only a fifth of the time, and his overall contact rate is a career total of 82.6% that has steadily increased for the past three seasons. Fukudome whiffs on about 6.6% of the pitches he faces, and it seems like he has traded power for more contact and patience when looking at his career totals.
The consensus is that Fukudome will never be a 1.5-2 WAR player again (2.8 WAR in 2009), and he is a depth outfielder who is worth 0.5 WAR. That’s not bad, and it’s certainly better than the $1 million seems to indicate. Kosuke Fukudome is being paid like a 0.2 WAR player, when he is worth more than double that amount. If he gets paid $3.5 million in 2013, then he will be expected to be worth 0.8 WAR.
At this point, 0.8 WAR is a logical best-case projection for Fukudome, under the assumption that he isn’t as talented as he used to be. He has the chance to be worth more than this, but the Sox don’t need to take that chance with the option. This was a solid, depth-building move for the White Sox, at a position where depth is premium. Besides, nobody knows how healthy those guys in the outfield can be over the course of the season, so it’s nice to have a high-OBP guy as cheap insurance. And who knows, maybe he plays better than expected and they need him next year? Either way, the most amount of money that the Sox can lose is $1 million. They’ve done worse than that, unless if Adam Dunn turns things around from 2011 for the next couple of years.
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