Jul 17, 2011; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners third baseman Chone Figgins (9) throws Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus (1) (not pictured) at 1st base in the 7th inning at Safeco Field.

The Figgins Experiment


 

This morning, our very own Harrison Crow presented the Chone Figgins situation from a different perspective, and I liked it. He’s already paid for, so let’s try to look at this as a situation where Figgins spent the last two years screwing some other team, and we got him for free. What should we do with him?

His natural position is third, and we have a lot of question marks at third. Looks good so far. Maybe we’ll just play him until he makes us want to watch curling, or until someone else (like Kyle Seager) steps up. I have no qualms with this strategy. In fact, on the off chance he plays well, we could be in position to either, A) trade him in July and NOT eat his entire salary, or B) keep him for a surprisingly competitive September which would help cover some of his costs. That’s a big if, but there is at least upside to this idea.

Harrison pointed out that Figgy is likely our best defender at third—his career UZR/150 from the hot corner is 8.5, and even better over his last 3000 innings. So the question is this: is his bat not-bad-enough to make the lineup, especially the leadoff spot (where he’s supposed to start this season)?

I think we can be fairly confident that Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and even Ichiro are among our top-five offensive weapons. The battle for the fifth-best is then likely between Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez…and Figgins.

What do the stats say?

Figgy has done one thing somewhat well at the dish the last two seasons. His walk rate with Seattle has been 9.4%, higher than the 8.5% MLB average. That figure was up at 10.5% in 2010 before Eric Wedge pushed the team to be more aggressive. Hopefully from the leadoff spot, Figgins can relax more and take advantage of his natural patience. Perhaps evidence of this more aggressive approach can be found in his strikeout rate, which was a career low last season.

Normally a reduced strikeout rate is a good thing, but in this case I think not. Increased aggression for a player with good patience seems like a recipe for less walks and bad plate discipline. Take a look at Figgy’s numbers…

Season

Team

O-Swing%

O-Contact%

LD%

2009

Angels

18.60%

75.80%

23.90%

2010

Mariners

21.50%

74.10%

20.80%

2011

Mariners

24.40%

78.10%

18.30%

 

He started swinging at balls outside the zone far more frequently in Seattle, and unfortunately he got “good” at it. He made contact with those balls, and hit fewer line drives. His BABIP dipped from a career mark of .341 to .314 in 2010, and to .215 last season. I don’t mean to peg this on Wedge and the coaching staff—Wedge only started in 2011—but rather on his position in the lineup. Feeling pressure can’t be a good thing for an otherwise patient leadoff hitter. I think there is reason to believe Figgy can perform much better from the leadoff spot. Of course, he was so bad last season that maybe “much better” isn’t good enough.

Mike Carp put together a respectable 313 plate appearances last season in which he slashed .276/.326/.466. In nearly 3000 minor league PAs, he slashed.277/.369/.470. The obvious difference is in his walk rates—greater than 10% in Tacoma over 1000+ PAs versus just 7.4% in 419 major league chances.

Bill James’ often optimistic projection puts him at 8.8% next season, while Rotochamp has him at 6.6%, straddling his career average to this point. In any event, he doesn’t seem to be a walker. Good news is that his strikeout rate hasn’t skyrocketed in his transition to the majors. It was about 19.5% in the minors, and 23.6% so far in Seattle. Granted, that’s not good, but we shouldn’t be concerned about another Miguel Olivo or Carlos Peguero just yet.

Straight up, it seems like Carp is more deserving of a higher lineup spot. However, that would make Figgins’ value—and any potential value—equal to zero. (The joke here would be that he’s been worse than “zero” the last few seasons. It would be funny because it’s true). But sliding everyone back a spot in the lineup to see if the 32-year-old Figgins can regain some form seems like a move with rationalizable upside. We could try one more time to get something out of Figgins, at the small cost of about 1 plate appearance every other few games for the likes of Carp, Smoak and Montero. Who knows, maybe it all had to do with batting out of the leadoff spot…

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