Where Does Figgins’ Decline Rank?

The decline of Chone Figgins over the past two seasons is no secret to baseball fans. He produced 1.1 WAR last season after an impressive 6.9-win campaign a year earlier. He also averaged 3.6 wins above replacement in 2007 and 2008, establishing himself as as a patient hitter with excellent baserunning skills and strong defensive skills. His past 940 plate appearances have been so utterly unimpressive, though, that it is hard to remember he was once considered a threat at the plate. On top of that, his fielding marks have suffered substantially. He is nowhere near the guy who earned a lucrative deal last season.

In 55 games this season, he has a negative UZR, a below average baserunning mark and a putrid .211 wOBA. All told, Figgins has cost the Mariners 1.2 wins. His walk rate has progressively dropped from 13.9% to 10.5% last season, and now sits at 5.5%, which would be the lowest of his career if the season ended today. Since 2009, his wOBA has dropped from .358 to .302, all the way to the current .211 mark, which had Joe Pawlikowski wondering how much longer the Mariners would continue to write his name on the lineup card.

I recently wondered if Jose Bautista‘s rise to superstardom was unprecedented in the annals of baseball history. So what if I repeated that research in the opposite direction? Namely, is the 33-year old Mariner’s decline unprecedented?

Has anyone else seen his wOBA fall at least 50 points in two consecutive seasons like Figgins? Perusing the trusty database, I stipulated that the players had to step to the plate at least 400 times in the first two seasons of the span, with at least 200 plate appearances in the third season. The plate-appearance criteria for the third season was less, given that players struggling as much as Figgins has in the past two seasons are simply unlikely to garner ample playing time. Those who do manage to rack up 400 or more plate appearances in the third season were likely signed to a lucrative contract, they were on a terrible team without an alternative, or both. That being said, who compares to Figgins?

Of the 10,771 three-year spans returned in the query, only 28 involved a player racking up at least 400, 400, and 200 plate appearances, while also losing at least 50 points in wOBA from year one to year two, and 50 more between the second and third seasons. In other words, what Figgins is doing is incredibly rare — 0.26 percent of player spans met that criteria. That isn’t 2.6 percent, but 0.26 percent, as in 0.0026.

But Figgins — with statistics through Wednesday — isn’t even the worst perpetrator on the list. Sorted by the total wOBA drop between the first and third seasons, here are the biggest drop-offs meeting my criteria since 1980:

1) Travis Hafner 2006 to 2008: Pronk’s decline was fueled by injuries, but his wOBA fell by more than 80 points in each season. After a gaudy .449 in 2006, he declined to .360, and then to .275. Injuries haven’t entirely escaped Hafner, but he has ranged between .355 and .410 since 2009. The Hafner example¬†doesn’t seem like a true comparable span since Figgins was never anywhere near as offensively sound as Hafner.

2) Vinny Castilla 1998 to 2000: After a stellar .396 wOBA in 1998, Castilla dropped to .344 the next season — which is still a solid number. In 2000, he batted just 354 times and finished with a .243 mark. He played six more seasons after that and even managed a .362 wOBA in 2004, but the 2001-06 Castilla produced more of his value with the glove than at the plate.

3) Chone Figgins 2009 to 2011: I just spent 600-or-so words discussing him.

4) Andruw Jones 2006 to 2008: This should have been an instant comp in our minds, as Jones’ decline was covered extensively and came on the heels of a 50 home run season. Jones dropped from .375 to .314 to .234. He’s managed to hang around and play somewhat productively, but to say he is a shell of his former self is an understatement.

5) Milton Bradley 2008 to 2010: Bradley’s drop-off is noteworthy given that it coincided with the final straw of his behavioral issues. After a .423 wOBA in 2008, he fell to a still solid .345, but mustered a measly .289 last season. He was released this year and is unlikely to be given any more opportunities at the major-league level. His decline is similar to Castilla’s — though both¬† differ from Figgins’ in the sense that their high marks at the start of the span was markedly above Figgins’ performance.

Ultimately, Figgins isn’t the only player to stumble into the realm of batting suckitude, but there aren’t many comparable spans. It will be interesting to see how much longer the Mariners continue to play him, even with his contractual albatross. More interesting will be monitoring where he stands in the above list. If he gets any worse, he’ll be in line for the greatest three-year wOBA decline in the past three decades.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

48 Responses to “Where Does Figgins’ Decline Rank?”

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  1. theperfectgame says:

    Jason Bay is a mere 36 PA from joining the party.

    2009 – .267/.384/.537, .397 wOBA (638 PA)
    2010 – .259/.347/.402, .336 wOBA (401 PA)
    2011 – .207/.307/.279, .274 wOBA (164 PA)

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  2. Hunter says:

    It might also be interesting to see which of these folks just signed a lucrative deal before they dropped off a cliff.

    I’m pretty sure Figgins and Bradley did…

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    • DD says:

      See Jason Bay above.

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    • thestreaksofbenfrancisco says:

      Hafner did, sort of.

      He certainly got a lot worse after signing for the big bucks, but he was probably already on the downslope.

      Pronk was signed to a 6 year, $63m contract mid way through the 2007 season. A more cautious GM might have been given pause by the dropoff he’d already had in the first three months of that year.

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  3. donnie baseball says:

    How about Markakis?

    It’s been more of a steady decline, but even more surprising considering his age.

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    • donnie baseball says:

      And yes his decline did start right after he signed his huge contract after 08′.

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    • Criminal Type says:

      I was just looking at his numbers yesterday. He has four doubles and four homers this year.

      And he plays every day.

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    • Ace says:

      Hard to put Markakis in this category considering his line drive rate is the best of his career thus far this year and his BABIP is the lowest.

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  4. Hell, Nate McLouth: .369, .350, .283, and at .305 this year.

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  5. gu03alum says:

    Dude got paid Dude stopped playing.

    He is very hard to watch as a Mariners fan.

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  6. Luke in MN says:

    Your criteria of requiring 2 consecutive years of decline is keeping out a lot of players that have declined just as dramatically as Figgins. If someone just had a single year of massive decline, they could easily have had just as dramatic a change as Figgins–moreso even–but wouldn’t make the list.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      The point was modeling a query based on what Figgins has done. It’s one thing to drop 100 pts in a year or something like that. Seems stranger to progressively worsen by 50, and then 50 more points.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        I guess so. The thing is, if you model it closely enough to what Figgins has done, the only person meeting the criteria will be Figgins. I took the experiment to be more like: What are the chances that someone who’d been as good as Figgins would suddenly become as bad as Figgins has become? I don’t think that is something that’s all that uncommon, assuming you don’t get too specific about what form the dropoff takes.

        To donnie: it’s excluding lots of people experiencing real decline. Someone who dropped 100 points, then continued on at that low level or below would be excluded as long as they didn’t have a second full 50-point dropoff (which would be hard to pull off considering the magnitude of the initial decline).

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    • donnie baseball says:

      then that would just be a real bad year and not a decline.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Exactly — it’s possible that a guy could drop 80 pts one yr and then shoot right back up the next year. What Figgins is experiencing is different.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Consider this player: .400 Oba, to .280 OBA to .240 OBA. That person is experiencing a decline every bit as dramatic than Figgins’s, but doesn’t qualify because the criteria is so specific.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        Luke you make a good point, I’m not shooting it down or anything. I’m just more fascinated by the gradual but steep decline from guys like Figgins than I am the guys who massively crater one year and sustain it the next year.

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  7. Dingbat says:

    Jeff Cirillo (2001-2003) doesn’t meet your criteria, since he went .360 -> .281 -> .253, but he fits the Figgins/Bradley mold of turning into crap the moment he put on a Mariners uniform. His collapse was so infuriating that I’m surprised that Figgins’ decline has actually been worse. I guess it doesn’t sting as much since the Mariners are so much farther from contention than they were in 2002 and 2003.

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  8. TDillon says:

    This isn’t the biggest decline the Mariner’s have had at 3rd Base.

    Jeff Cirillo’s wOBA:
    .363, .383, .353, .378, .380, .376, .360, .281, .253, .246

    4.6, 5.1, 6.8, 5.2, 3.3, 4.3, 1.4, -.5, -.3.

    Chone Figgins wOBA
    .314, .339, .339, .320, .371, .319, .358, .302, .211

    1.7, 3.6, .7, 4, 3.2, 6.9, 1.1, -1.2.

    Figgins 6.9 WAR stands out as an enormous outlier. Cirillo was a model of consistency. Figgins may have dropped more, but his numbers were for lower throughout his career.

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  9. Chad says:

    Figgins must have been on steroids and now with the stricter drug testing his true ability is showing.

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  10. purpleReign says:

    Garrett Atkins never really established himself, but his decline is similar.

    2006-2010: .410, .368, .337, .291, .256

    Thats a decline of -.42, -.31, -.46, -.35 with an average of -.38.5 over four years. That was a real bummer.

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  11. Mr. wOBAto says:

    I was going to make a joke about Barry Bonds age 43 season being so much better than his age 44, then I looked up his numbers… Holy Crap he posted a .429 wOBA as a 43 year old, that would have ranked 3rd in MLB last year.

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  12. M.R. says:

    The two-step drop overlooks some of the truly great cliff drops in history.

    See, e.g. Roberto Alomar.

    1999-2001: .420, .381, .412

    2002-2004: .316, .307, .307

    That’s a single season 96 point drop, not skewed by an outlier starting comparison either, with no recovery.

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  13. phoenix2042 says:

    how does derek jeters drop off after 2009 to 10 to 11 rank? On my phone so cant crunch the numbers.

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  14. Chone’s 2010 performance isn’t all that out of line with the majority of his career. It is remarkably similar (park-adjusted) to what he did in 2008, for example

    2007 and 2009 were his outlier years. Seattle’s mistake was assuming that they were his established performance level.

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    • T says:

      Well, not really. He only needed to be worth 2ish wins to be worth the contract, and that includes his above average defense. This is some unforeseen terribleness.

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  15. Anon says:

    Marcus Giles: .363 -> .323 -> .283 -> out of baseball. His defense tanked as well.

    Aaron Hill is following the same career path, though he was never as good.

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    • Franco says:

      At least for guys like Giles you can point at likely PED usage/stoppage. Figgins never hit for power and was tested while he was good.

      It’s got to some kind of injury that’s getting worse? Any Mariner fans notice if he lost speed or something?

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I don’t know if Giles was a roider. His brother was pretty well built too. I just think that his short frame and big swing got too slow as he got older. He was really good 25-27, then averageish at 28, and bad at 29. Fairly normal physical progression for males. Getting weaker and thus a slower bat around 30. Elite athletes will stay strong into their 30s, Marcus probably wasn’t an elite athlete.

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  16. sky bruch says:

    Put him at leadoff and see what happens!!

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  17. maqman says:

    Surely a cautionary tale of the fallacy of signing people to long contracts after a career best year. I’m a big Jack Z supporter but he screwed the pooch on this one I’m afraid. At least he didn’t bite on Bay, there were a lot of fans pushing for that to happen. I’m at the point that I’m afraid Figgins is not salvageable. That’s probably manageable but if Ichiro continues to tank too then we are in deep do-do.

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  18. Patrick G says:

    I find it notable that the late-2000s Mariners factor into two out of five of these. Might the team have something to do with it? Obviously Safeco can be pointed to for low power numbers, but what about piss-poor offensive numbers up and down the lineup for the last few years (Ichiro excluded)? Bad hitting looks like its spreading in Seattle — perhaps coaching is an issue.

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  19. OzzieGuillen says:

    So if the American economy does take a double dip, they should just call it a Figgins.

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