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Chone Figgins, Leadoff Hitter

Posted By Chris Cwik On February 23, 2012 @ 9:00 am In Mariners | 24 Comments

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.


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