At what point do you shorten the leash of an underperforming player?
I’m trying to be generous here, since this is a post about Chone Figgins, and as a Mariners fan, I’d prefer to posit the question, “Can we release Figgins tomorrow?” Clearly Eric Wedge saw something akin to potential in Chone at the beginning of this season; at the very least, he was trying to squeeze every penny’s worth of an outstanding $17M contract.
“I’m confident that Figgins can get back to his old self as a leadoff hitter,” Wedge told the press in February. “I feel like, to give him the greatest chance to get back on track and succeed, is to give him that opportunity of leading off for us.”
We knew it was a poor justification for a two-year slump, but the Mariners can get away with a lot under the guise of rebuilding a team. If they aren’t planning on hitting up the World Series in 2012, it’s as good a year as any to let Chone have his fun at leadoff.
And, as far as I’m concerned, he has. He matched his home run total for seasons 2010-2011 in just ten games this year. In the second opening series against the A’s, he put up 6 hits in 9 PA and came one home run shy of hitting for the cycle. On his good days, he’s a harmless hitter with a bit of power, a pinch of good luck, and some timely hits.
Even with the smallest of sample sizes, however, he’s far from anything you might label “a hitting machine.” He won’t be the next Albert Pujols, no matter how many home runs he racks up before Albert manages to go yard. So far this season, Figgins is batting .198/.260/.319 with an 0-for-18 streak in his last four games. Although he sees an average of 6.03 pitches per at-bat, he has not drawn a walk in nine starts, while his strikeout rate has skyrocketed to 26.0%.
According to Wedge, this is puzzling behavior from the Angels’ 2009 All-Star. Via Geoff Baker:
“Wedge said he is mystified by all the strikeouts he’s seeing from his veteran leadoff hitter. ‘I don’t know where they’re coming from,’ Wedge said. ‘I didn’t see that one coming. Because from what I saw this spring and even early on, he’s a guy who had the ability to foul off pitches when he needed to. And did a good job with two strikes, fighting through ABs.'”
I’ll tell you where it’s coming from, Mr. Wedge. In the past five seasons, Chone struck out 625 times. His strikeout rate hovered between 13-16% in each of those given years. In the first month of the 2012 season, that strikeout rate was highest when he saw two strikes, 41.7% on an 0-2 count and 46.4% on a 2-2 count.
Despite the almighty necessity of veteran presence on this team, what the Mariners don’t need right now is wasted space on a roster that is increasingly crowded by fresh talent. Right now, you can stick Figgins in left field… or Casper Wells. Figgins at third base… or Alex Liddi. Figgins at leadoff… or Dustin Ackley.
So while I appreciate Wedge’s efforts to revitalize the careers of washed-up veterans on this team, I’ll reserve my applause for the day when Chone Figgins no longer appears in the Mariners’ lineup—or, for that matter, their roster.