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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