Chone Figgins, Leadoff Hitter

The Seattle Mariners are looking for any way to get some value out of Chone Figgins. Since joining the team, the 34-year-old has been one of the worst regulars in the game. So to salvage what’s left of his contract, the Mariners are making Figgins a leadoff hitter — again. It’s a last ditch effort to improve his value, though it’s unclear whether Figgins’ contract can be saved.

Figgins had some interesting things to say when the story first broke.

“It would be great to go back to leadoff and do that again,” Figgins said. “If not, I have to change my mindset as a ‘2’ hitter. I haven’t really changed my mindset to be a ‘2’ hitter. I’ve stuck with being a patient hitter.

“In the ‘2’ spot, you need to be a little more aggressive. It’s something I haven’t done more consistently. I haven’t been consistent being more aggressive in the strike zone.”

Did Figgins actually alter his approach in the two-hole, or is this just posturing from a player trying to regain his value? Over his career, Figgins has been much better in the leadoff spot.

Chone Figgins Plate Appearances BB% AVG OBP SLG
Batting 1st 2981 13.3% .289 .367 .380
Batting 2nd 1515 9.4% .266 .336 .336

Figgins’ statement seems pretty accurate. He still maintained a strong walk rate while batting second, but he was definitely more aggressive. At the same time, Figgins rarely hit second when he was with the Los Angeles Angels. Most of the stats he accumulated while batting second came exclusively from his time with in Seattle. In the past two seasons, Figgins has been downright horrible.

Batting Second Plate Appearances BB% AVG OBP SLG
2010 688 10.5% .256 .337 .303
2011 206 5.3% .193 .235 .260

Last season, specifically, was an incredibly ugly one for Figgins. Perhaps convinced that he needed to alter his approach, Figgins’ walk rate collapsed. Figgins was definitely more aggressive, too, as his O-Swing, Z-Swing and Swing percentage all rose. While Figgins made slightly more contact in 2011, he wasn’t able to square up the ball as often. Since he was swinging at less-hittable pitches, Figgins’ BABIP fell to just .215. While some of that is luck — Figgins’ career number in the category is .329 — it’s plausible to think that Figgins hurt his BABIP by swinging at pitches that he couldn’t handle as well.

If Figgins does decide to return to his patient ways, there’s a chance he can salvage some of his value. Even though he was a disappointment in 2010 — producing just 1.1 WAR — Figgins’ value was destroyed by a -12.3 UZR at second base. He has always been a much stronger defender at third base, and a return to the position in 2012 will only add to his value. If Figgins hits like he did in 2010 — and plays solid defense — he could be worth about two wins next season. While that’s far from ideal, the Mariners would at least get some value out of a nearly sunk cost.

If the Mariners start Figgins at third, it would come at the expense of Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi. Both players have been prospects at some point, but it’s unclear whether either guy is ready for the majors. Liddi hit 30 home runs in AAA this past season, but his strikeout rate is alarming. Seager, who rose through both AA and AAA this past season, is probably the more major-league ready of the two, but he doesn’t have a high ceiling.

While neither player is particularly ready to make an impact right now, playing Figgins at third will take away from their development in the majors. Seager and Liddi will be future contributors on this team, where as Figgins will be gone once his contract is up. Figgins should be the better player this season, but if the team struggles, Seattle may want to see what it has in Seager or in Liddi.

In the perfect world, Figgins produces well enough to be dealt. The Mariners might have to eat some of his remaining contract, but trading Figgins would allow them to save some money and see what the future holds for their youngsters. While Figgins won’t magically turn back into a 3- or 4-win player next season, the Mariners are trying to put him in the best situation to succeed. If he struggles, he’ll be easily replaced by younger — and potentially better — options. In short, the Mariners are putting Figgins in the best scenario for success. Here’s hoping he has something left in the tank.



Print This Post



Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
JCA
Guest
JCA
4 years 7 months ago

“Last season, specifically, was an incredibly ugly one for Figgins. Perhaps convinced that he needed to alter his approach, Figgins’ improved his walk rate.”

Chris – this isn’t clear from the table right above the quote. Is the BB% wrong for 2010 and 2011 batting second, or did you mean something else?

jcxy
Guest
jcxy
4 years 7 months ago

While I agree your conclusion is one possible solution from a set of facts (esp given the O-Swing numbers)…couldn’t another conclusion be that as his speed erodes (as measured by BsR), his eye deteriorates, he’s just not much of a hitter anymore? While he posted a near .400 OBP before his walk year, his career average well established around .350. His 2010 line–minus the UZR defense is– pretty much who Chone Figgins was as a hitter during his “prime years”, with some babip regression.

Why should I buy that a 34 year old who relies on getting on base to fully actualize his value is going to be able to reproduce some Austin Jackson-esque babips now? So if you project him as a 320-330 OBP guy…why should he lead-off? He routinely hit 8th and 9th in Anaheim. Instead of giving up an out to start the game every third game, why not allow him to demonstrate value in the bottom half of the lineup first?

I’m not breaking any news in saying that the 2012 Ms aren’t going to be the 27 Yankees of run-scoring, but endeavoring to start the game with an out would only seem to compound that problem, no?

jcxy
Guest
jcxy
4 years 7 months ago

err, two out of every three games*

Cozar
Member
Cozar
4 years 7 months ago

He did not routinely hit 8th or 9th with the Angels. He has a total 644 games started as leadoff (643 with the Angels and only 1 with Seattle – he went 2 for 4) compared to 25 GS started as 8th (20 with Seattle) and 107 started as 9th (13 with Seattle). Finally, we have 339 started in the 2-spot.

When hitting leadoff he has an OBP of .367 compared to .336 and .332 hitting 2nd and 9th. Sure, it’s possible he jsut doesn’t see as well, but if he has an explanation for why he hits better as leadoff, and the numbers support it, why wouldn’t you at least give it a shot?

jcxy
Guest
jcxy
4 years 7 months ago

Why not try this experiment? Honestly, because the Ms goal shouldn’t be to start two out of every three games with an out.

While I can, I guess, buy the argument that you have to do different things in different parts of the lineups, like hitting 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or 5th…hitting 8th or 9th shouldn’t change Chone Figgins’ approach to hitting. His job is to get on base there. Moreover, it mitigates any potential damage he does to the lineup.

I guess I just don’t put a lot of weight splits data.

Usage Jerk
Guest
Usage Jerk
4 years 7 months ago

“While that’s far from ideal, the Mariners would at least get some value out of a nearly sunk cost.”

That is not an appropriate use of “sunk cost.” Investopedia: “A cost that has already been incurred and thus cannot be recovered. A sunk cost differs from other, future costs that a business may face, such as inventory costs or R&D expenses, because it has already happened. Sunks costs are independent of any event that may occur in the future.”

sc2gg
Guest
sc2gg
4 years 7 months ago

Man, if you’re breaking out “Investopedia” to nitpick writing, then perhaps it’s time for someone to come up with “Nitpickopedia”.

Richie
Member
Richie
4 years 7 months ago

Well, he did give you fair warning with his choice of name. Myself, I don’t mind folks clarifying phrases, lest I myself misuse them in the future.

Kitchensink
Guest
Kitchensink
4 years 7 months ago

I think an email to the author (if an option) is preferable when being a usage jerk. Always appreciated, but better to correct in private than in public.

Shane Heathers
Guest
Shane Heathers
4 years 7 months ago

You are a Usage Jerk, no doubt about it. Let me learn you sumthin Usage Jerk. Chone Figgins+Mariners+4 year+36 Million+0 WAR=Sunk cost.

Llewdor
Member
Llewdor
4 years 7 months ago

It’s a sunk cost because the money’s already been committed to Figgins. Figgins’s performance is irrelevant to whether the cost is sunk.

dano
Guest
dano
4 years 7 months ago

The reason it’s not a sunk cost is best exemplified by the AJ Burnett trade; some portion of the future commitment is still potentially recoverable. Also, there is the potential the contract could be voided for some reason (albeit a very, very small potential). A sunk cost in baseball terms would be more appropriately be exemplified by a high signing bonus for a draftee / international signing. For example, say the M’s gave Prospect A a $2m signing bonus, and Prospect A proceeded to suck in his first year as a SP in the minors; they may convert Prospect A to a RP in order to gain some value from the sunk cost of the bonus.

Sorry to nit-pick but figured since this was clearly a big to-do here, I’d throw my first FG post ever at it.

steex
Member
steex
4 years 7 months ago

I will actually disagree with Usage Jerk and say that Chris’s usage of “sunk cost” is essentially accurate. The Investopedia definition is not taking into account a scenario where a future cost is guaranteed. Future costs such as inventory or R&D can be avoided by not restocking inventory or choosing to cut O&D, but the Mariners have no recourse for avoiding Chone’s salary even if they cut the player (minus a pro-rated league minimum portion if he signs elsewhere).

TK
Guest
TK
4 years 7 months ago

The real problem is that the M’s are not treating Figgins’ contract as a sunk cost, but are rather giving him a more important role than his performance indicates he deserves in order to justify the contract. Because the M’s are viewed by most as a SABR friendly team, this idiocy is given the most positive spin possible. Does anyone really think this article would look the same if the Royals made it?

OzzieGuillen
Member
OzzieGuillen
4 years 7 months ago

Nice post, TK. That was my first thought when reading this article as well. Management would rather compound their error than admit it.

Semantix
Guest
Semantix
4 years 7 months ago

Oh man, not this $&%! again. Go to Lookout Landing if you want to beat that dead horse some more, they’ve had entire posts and ranta debating what the heck sunk cost means.

Dexter Bobo
Guest
Dexter Bobo
4 years 7 months ago

More like Stunk Cost. Amiright?

Macek
Guest
Macek
4 years 7 months ago

I might have misread Figgins’ quote, but didn’t he say that he hasn’t changed his approach since being asked to hit second?

LTG
Guest
LTG
4 years 7 months ago

Eh, what he says is unclear. The first half suggests he hasn’t changed his approach yet but will if he continues hitting second. The second half suggests he tried changing his approach but implemented the changes inconsistently. The swing rates suggest that at least the second half is true.

Richie
Member
Richie
4 years 7 months ago

Regarding Seager and Liddi, has research shown any difference between development time in the majors vis-a-vis the minors? Unless you’re absolutely tearing up a level, seems to me you’ll develop most wherever you play the most regularly. The small differences I can think up, seems to me they speak to developing better at Triple A, where development is the purpose.

Karnak The Great
Guest
Karnak The Great
4 years 7 months ago

A: “Chone Figgins, Leadoff Hitter”
Q: “How do you induce vomiting in a Mariners fan?”

Xeifrank
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

If you assume that Suzuki’s results will be the same or similar (wOBA wise) hitting anywhere in the lineup there really shouldn’t be any expected increase or decrease in runs scored by the Mariners in regards to Suzuki batting third with Figgins leadoff vs what they had planned before.
vr, Xei

Andre
Guest
Andre
4 years 7 months ago

Wow, the Mariners are going to fun to watch next year, aren’t they?

*Gags*

mnt
Guest
mnt
4 years 7 months ago

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if Figgins is worth 2WAR he would basically be worth the 9m he’s owed next year

wpDiscuz