A Deep Long,Tortuous Study of Chone Figgins

There is always talk among people who follow baseball as how to we should view the “field staff”. This is a bigger deal in Oakland as we saw the dismissing of Bob Geren and the hiring of Bob Melvin after a lot of criticism and the apparent loss of “his guys in the locker room”. Now, I don’t watch many games outside the normal ones I watch with Seattle. Every once in a while I’ll watch a Saturday afternoon ball game or a Sunday evening game and then of course who can turn down a Boston vs New York game where you can always hope that the benches clear. But back to Oakland and Geren, I’ve been told that fans were annoyed with how he used the pitching staff and his ability to “lead” was compromised with how he communicated with his players.

Now these are tangible things. Obviously there isn’t anyway we can run the statistics and see if he was a better communicator last year than he was this year. What we do know is despite getting better hitting this year than what he got last year (team wOBA 315 vs  .295 last year) and getting better pitching this year (team FIP 3.54 vs 4.13 last year) they are still nine games below .500 and as what has been mentioned, wins is the only way teams have decided to measure how good you are at managing your ball club.

But even then winning clubs have already made moves. Look at poor Thad Bosley who was removed from his position as the Texas Rangers hitting coach despite the team being 4th in the league in wOBA (.340 and an increase over last year’s .333 and former hitting coach Clint Hurdle). The reason cited was lack of communication.

It was communication … not a lot there. You’d like to have somebody that knows when to back off, knows when to approach, gets what they want to get across to you, but find out your personality and find out how to get it across to you. Those things just didn’t happen the way they needed to. – Josh Hamilton in interview with ESPN

 

All these little mental things that we concern ourselves with are funny and it makes for a nice little antidote on a quiet Saturday afternoon. But why bring all this up? It’s certainly not to make fun of individuals that lost their job (though it was amusing to pick on my little brother who is a GIANT ranger and graduated high school on the same day the Rangers fired their hitting coach. I got the privilidge to break the news to him about an hour prior to recieving his diploma something I don’t think he’ll forget.) and it isn’t to take cheap shots at our division rivals.

But, I spent this morning (outside of cleaning up the mess my son made spraying Capri Sun all over the house) just looking and comparing Chone Figgins splits and stats from his time with Anaheim and his time here with Seattle.

Just looking at just plain raw plate statistics you can just tell that there are some issues. His Oswing (balls he swings at outside the strike zone are the highest they have ever been in his career since joining Seattle. But his contact rates haven’t changed, in fact it’s been great… the best of his career. He may strike out here and there but ultimately when he is at the top of the line up with Ichiro the Mariners have the hardest duo in the league to strike out.

So to me he’s doing something with his swing. We all have observed how bad he’s been but maybe it’s because he’s trying to do something different than what he did in Anaheim.  He’s obviously trying to make more contact and swinging at pitches he never did before.

Obviously his ability to understand the strike zone hasn’t changed and in reality he’s taking the same amount of pitches he did while in Anaheim (4.08 here vs. 4.10 there) so while we’ve seen a giant reduction in walks it’s not necessarily because he is taking less pitches. He is seeing less balls however in his plate appearances 1.48 per PA in 2011 and 1.59 per PA in 2010 vs. 1.73 in 2009 and 1.64 in 2008.

I’d like to know if his foul balls have increased but oddly enough that’s not tracked… at least that I can find. If someone could point that out to me I’d love to compare the numbers.

So ultimately there is no way we can conclude that he’s the same hitter. He has altered the way that he has hit to an extent. But looking at his time between Anaheim and Seattle there are differences in the way pitchers have come at him. While only slightly different his results against the pitches is startling different.

Since coming to the Mariners his productivity with the fastball has been a loss of negative 25 runs. This is immensely different than his time with with the Angels, where he was good for a combined 35.5 runs above average against the fastball over 8 years or good for 0.53 runs per 100 fastballs. Ironically the past two years he’s -1.00 run per 100 pitches.

Pitchers have been going at him a bit different too. He’s struggled against curve balls the last few years and it seems that pitchers have been throwing it at him more often good for a -0.84 runs over the past four years per 100 pitches. I don’t know if it’s because of that but he has seen a slight increase in curve balls in association with his struggles.

Now, the caveat to judging pitch values is that it’s based on events not just swings and misses or contact. So you could just say that he’s struggled in general to just about everything and you would be correct. But I tend to believe it’s more of a problem with his general approach.

He’s not driving the ball like he did in while Anaheim  where he hit 21% line drives on balls in play versus 17% now. Plus you have in general the fact that during his peak years with the Angels he was driving the ball near 24% of the time. He was spraying balls all over the place. Now this year it’s a career low at only 18%. Obviously despite the fact that he’s making more contact he’s not connecting with pitches like he did before.

His ISO the last two years have been lower than all but one year with during his time with the Angels which of course just goes further into proving he’s not making the good contact that he was before. His BABIP (a combined .288 the last two years) is lower than any than anytime he had with the Angels with the exception to his 12 plate appearances in 2002.

So I’ve spent 7 paragraphs telling you what you already knew. Chone Figgins is not good. But we still don’t completely understand why. I have my theories about the type of pitches he’s taking and the overall change in approach, and to its extent conjecture, I wonder how much the Mariners staff has negatively affected Figgins.

Now, I’m not placing blame on them. No one can be blamed for what Figgins does or doesn’t do but Figgins. Yet, you see a change in approach and you can see difference in production. Sure there has been two different coaching staffs here in Seattle during his tenure, but they have both tried to “adjust” what he does based upon where he is in the batting order. What if they didn’t change anything. Why not just let him play his game that he played in Anaheim?

“Skipper has talked to me about it and I felt more aggressive the last three games or so,” he said. “I have gone up there trying to swing the bat more. It’s about just getting ready on time and not trying to be so perfect with your swing and trying to get a perfect pitch to hit and just letting it go.” – Jack Cust on May 12th 2011

Now, I don’t think that Wedge “hates” walks or even under values them. I think the problem with Cust is that he took some pitches in hitters counts trying to get on base that he could drive and when you are struggling at the plate to make good contact you need to take advantage of that. The problem with Figgins is kind of reverse of Cust. He is just being too aggressive, just trying to make contact and put the ball in play. Opposed to waiting and getting into a hitters count.Take a look at the table below.

2011
Counts PA BABIP wOBA BB
0B / 1S 121 0.206 0.207 X
0B / 2S 35 0.280 0.201 X
1B / 0S 98 0.222 0.234 X
1B / 1S 108 0.173 0.203 X
1B / 2S 57 0.300 0.258 X
2B / 0S 34 0.200 0.231 X
2B / 1S 61 0.178 0.208 X
2B / 2S 63 0.244 0.224 X
3B / 0S 12 0.143 0.306 4
3B / 1S 25 0.059 0.246 7
3B / 2S 36 0.261 0.267 5

As of right now he’s sitting about 13% success rates on getting walked in a 3-ball count. Looking back to 2010 he was 30%, 2009 he was 40%, 2008 he was 35%.  So uhh… 13% roughly in the really bad to negative area.

People talk about how statistics ruin baseball. But I think the same can happen when guys put too much mental emphasis on things that just don’t really matter. Figgins I believe is doing just that. He’s trying to change what makes him successful. He’s trying to be a “number 2″ hitter. He’s going up to the plate to put the ball in play and see what happens. This isn’t what made him successful in Anaheim and I’m pretty certain that if he were to go back today that by years end he’d be the same pest as before.

He had success in my opinion because he was only going to swing at pitches he could drive he can drive and if he can get a walk that’s just fine, if he struck out, hey it happens. No one really discouraged him from taking pitches. But here in Seattle we hear about being aggressive and we hear about hitters pitches and the like. It seems like our organization never really has embraced the benefits to taking pitches. The team started doing it at the beginning of the season and it worked out decent for the team. As Dave Cameron mentioned previously in May, the Mariners were second in BB% and scored in April the team scored 109 runs with a OPS of.656 and then in May they dropped in BB% scoring only 84 runs and had a team OPS of .614.

Now, I get that there were some circumstances in the Detroit series and in Tonorto. But maybe it came because of an approach and mindset that the hitters had. It seems to me that since Eric Wedge has pressed upon this team to be more aggressive the team hasn’t done as good. Then again, Jack Cust has had two home runs since that sit down and his OBP has still stay high.

I think there is a nice equilibrium that this team needs to find between taking pitches and letting hittable pitches be thrown down the middle. This is no more applicable than with Chone Figgins. I still have faith that the guy can be a productive major league hitter. But there are changes that need to happen and until those changes happen he’s going to continue to struggle.

Should he be placed at the top of the line-up, I think he could be should Wedge want to move Ichiro somewhere else in the line up. But does he HAVE to hit in a specific order within the batting line up to be able to reach his potential or show success? I think that suggestion is pure craziness.

Could you imagine telling you’re boss that you can only give a knock out presentation BUT only if you were first EVERY single time? I understand that within baseball there are certain things that you want to be able to do. Different areas of the field you want to hit the ball. But it’s not like Figgins really needed to change his approach anymore so than when he was in Anaheim.

The following chart is with runners in scoring position:

Figgins PA wOBA OPS+
2003 107 0.331 102
2004 291 0.374 130
2005 275 0.314 92
2006 240 0.307 82
2007 201 0.383 134
2008 171 0.322 94
2009 273 0.379 130
2010 316 0.321 101
2011 107 0.205 25

He did have 43 more plate appearances but he was hitting behind Ichiro. It’s only natural that he would have a few more PAs. But there is no need to change what he was doing and that’s what I feel he was and still is doing.

I tend to think that Figgins struggles can be summed up to environment and mental approach to hitting. He is swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone in counts in which he’s a head an effort to put the ball in play and put Ichiro in motion. Resulting in weak contact, disastrous double plays and nullified potential.

The Mariners are better when Figgins is taking pitches and taking them in and effort to get on base. The counts that Figgins has got himself into at the plate are more often to no advantage or to the pitchers advantage more than they are to his advantage. Something that hasn’t been the case in the past.

I get that people dislike him for a variety of reasons. All those reasons I don’t quiet understand. But I do understand some of the plays he’s made and the way he comes across can only be described as loafiesque. Maybe there is more too it than that, maybe it’s a local thing and I just don’t get caught up in all the talk on the radio. Being down in Montgomery I realize there is a few things that I don’t get because of locality. But, while I’m frustrated with him and disappointed in how he’s produced I still think that there is potential to be a major league player. I just think they need to get back to doing what is effective for him.

With Jose Lopez it was similar but different. I don’t know if he refused to change his style of game or if it was just serious self discipline habits that ultimately ruined his career. But neither of those issues apply to Figgins, You can point out a few other guys but the point is that I think Figgins situation is unique and that he’s still a major league caliber player.

His speed is still intact, his hit tool has maybe taken a small hit but it’s not like he isn’t able to drive the ball or having issues making consistent contact he is just chasing too many pitches out of the zone. But I feel as if that’s not a problem with decision making so much as if he feels he is suppose to swing.

I hate the whole meme of “Why do they get better when they leave” and Figgins is a prime target for it. I think he could leave Seattle and depending on where he goes (he’d EXCELL in Boston) on either a reduced contract or even at the league minimum pick back up at 75% of what he used to be.

Then we get to hear people say the infamous line… “Why do they always get better”? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Sometimes we poke fun at things like communication or the ever infamous chemistry reports. Simply because there is no way to tell if it’s crap or truth. Managers get fired over silly things that we don’t understand and hitting coaches gets relieved of their duties even when their team is hitting.

It’s ridiculous sometimes but other times like right now with what’s going on with Figgins I wonder how much of this is really his talent and how much is mental. Maybe, this was just a waste of a day. I don’t know. I hope you got something out it beyond the usual “I hate figgins regurgitated crap.”

 

 

Tags: Chone Figgins Jack Cust Jose Lopez

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