Patience Is A Virtue

Dave · May 22, 2011 at 7:41 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Nearly everyone who covers the Mariners will be writing about the team’s ridiculous run of pitching as of late. While it’s definitely impressive, I don’t necessarily feel the need to chime in on the subject. The guys have been great, but I’m not sure what else there is to say.

So, let’s talk about Chone Figgins for a second. After a lousy 2010 season, many (including myself) pointed to a bounce back from him as an area where the team could expect improvement. Instead, he’s regressed even further, and at this point he might just be the worst player in the line-up – and that’s saying something. How has Figgins managed to go from bad to even worse?

It’s pretty simple – he decided to “be aggressive”. At some point either over the off-season or during spring training, Figgins (or someone around him) decided that part of his problem was his willingness to take pitches. Eric Wedge has already expressed frustration with the team’s willingness to take strikes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was more of a coaching emphasis, but whoever came up with the idea that Figgins needs to swing more, they should be punched in the mouth.

This year, Chone Figgins is swinging more than he ever has in his career – 43.2% of the time. That’s up from 39.3% last year and 36.6% in his final year in Anaheim, the last year he was actually an effective offensive player. Not surprisingly, the increase in swing rate has directly led to a drop in walk rate, and Figgins has only drawn nine free passes in 181 trips to the plate this year. This is a guy who drew 101 walks two years ago, and he’s on pace to draw 36 this year if he gets an equal amount of plate appearances.

That’s 65 fewer free trips to first base, a huge step backwards for a guy whose entire game is built around getting on base and using his legs to add value to the team. The lack of walks could be off-set if Figgins was swinging at pitches that he could easily convert into base hits, but that’s simply not the case. In fact, the real rise in Figgins’ swing rate has come on pitches out of the strike zone.

Figgins has swung at 60.2% of the pitches he’s been thrown in the strike zone this year, but that’s actually below his career average of 61.8%. On pitches out of the strike zone, though, he’s at 26.2% – way above the 17.2% mark he’s set throughout his career. In 2009, he swung at just 15.1% of pitches out of the zone.

He’s also making contact with these pitches at a drastically higher rate, but that’s not exactly a good thing. In general, contact on pitches out of the zone lead to weak contact and easy outs, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen from Figgins this year. Despite being one of the fastest players in baseball and a ground ball hitter, Figgins has a batting average on balls in play of just .234, 100 points lower than his career average. Some of that is probably bad luck, with balls just being hit right at guys, but some of it is also Figgins chasing pitches that he has no business swinging at and hitting into easy groundouts because of his new aggressive approach.

Someone needs to intervene here. Whether they thought it was a good idea or not, the concept of a free-swinging Chone Figgins is a miserable failure. He only really has two Major League skills – a discerning eye at the plate and good speed – and this new approach has crippled one of them. Now, the team basically has a fast guy who can’t get on base often enough to make use out of his speed, and the overall package is a highly paid replacement level player.

Someone in the organization needs to sit down with Chone Figgins and say “Hey, this isn’t working. Go back to doing what you did two years ago when you didn’t suck. Stop swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. Try to take a walk every game. Crouch more if you have to.” Maybe they can say it with more tact than that, but the general message needs to be forceful. This version of Chone Figgins is awful, and there’s simply no reason anyone should be encouraging a guy with marginal bat speed and no power to be trying to hit his way on base more often.

Stand there with the bat on your shoulder, Chone. We didn’t sign up for four years of an expensive Josh Wilson, but that’s essentially what you’ve turned yourself into. Take some pitches. Work counts. And if anyone tells you to be more aggressive, plug your ears and walk away.


61 Responses to “Patience Is A Virtue”

  1. jld on May 23rd, 2011 2:12 pm

    Love the “crouch more” strategy. I was always the shortest player on my little league team and basically took that approach. I’d make myself as small as possible at the plate and only swing at meatballs. Good pitchers would pretty much would send me back to the bench after three or four pitches.

    Unbeknownst to me the coach was compiling statistics and at the end of the season he delivered the news that I was batting .075, (ugh) but had an OBP of over .800.

  2. nathaniel dawson on May 23rd, 2011 2:38 pm

    I sure hope he learned from this mistake when he goes into the next offseason with some money to spend for the first time in a couple of years.

    What exactly is the lesson to be learned here?

  3. msfanmike on May 23rd, 2011 2:58 pm

    I don’t understand how people can complain about the Figgins signing when everyone was lauding it at the time

    I think people are mostly complaining about Figgins’ performance, but an occasional complaint about the signing comes through – although, as stated above – the signing made sense at the time. Other than one really bad playoff series just prior to becoming a Free Agent after the ’09 season, there was no indication that Figgins would perform so poorly. Maybe his bad playoff performance was the only indication. He is hitting about the same as he did in that series, come to think of it

  4. JasonJ on May 23rd, 2011 2:58 pm

    Good write-up. I was wondering how a good player could become so bad so fast and this all makes sense. I really hope he is not a lost cause but he is brutal to watch, especially in the 2 hole.

    I guess Wedge won’t demote him to batting 9th because he’s a “star”, but a .250 OBP from your #2 is perposterous.

  5. r-gordon-7 on May 23rd, 2011 4:14 pm

    “And if anyone tells you to be more aggressive, plug your ears and walk away.”

    Was that “plug your ears” an intenional reference to Bradley, a subliminal reference to Bradley or neither..? 😉

  6. SeasonTix on May 23rd, 2011 4:52 pm

    You’re right … most people (including me) thought this was a good signing at the time.

    I also remember during he offseason before the 2010 season when Tony Blegino was bragging about how the M”s would NOT suck in OBP in 2010 as they had in 2009.

    We all remember the 2010 offense setting new records for futility (not sure where they ranked in OBP but probably last).

    My point is that they made moves that they thought would work but they did not.

    So maybe there is something wrong with their PROCESS … they seem to have a knack for picking up players who do not play up to their potential. Not Bavasi bad, but not what I expected out of Jack and the crew when they first came on board.

    I have faith they will learn from these mistakes and adjust their process going forward to hopefully generate better results.

  7. smb on May 23rd, 2011 6:03 pm

    At least we can still root for him since he’s such a likeable guy.

  8. nathaniel dawson on May 23rd, 2011 8:49 pm

    So maybe there is something wrong with their PROCESS … they seem to have a knack for picking up players who do not play up to their potential…I have faith they will learn from these mistakes and adjust their process going forward to hopefully generate better results.

    You still haven’t told us what those mistakes were. What are the mistakes in their process that you have identified that have lead to these poor results?

  9. tres_arboles on May 24th, 2011 8:32 am

    All managers have plusses and minuses – and this “aggressiveness” seems to be Wedgie’s big minus.

    Um, beg pardon, but I read recently that not only are the M’s seeing more pitches as a team, they’re seeing significantly more pitches. And rank somewhere near the top of the league there. Maybe the problem isn’t “aggressiveness” at all. Maybe the guy’s just trying to fulfill the stereotypical or customary role of a two hitter as a “bat handler” and he sucks at it.

    Wedge and his management of this team is right there at the core of the M’s humble success so far this season. Criticizing him for paying lip service to team aggressiveness (while the team is actually playing a fairly patient brand of ball) is pretty skin deep.

  10. 6-4-3 on May 24th, 2011 2:18 pm

    I’m a little late here, but the first thing I thought of is maybe Figgins’ eyesight has deteriorated? He’s swinging at pitches because he just can’t tell anymore whether they’re balls or strikes.

  11. OffensivelyChallenged on May 24th, 2011 7:22 pm

    I honestly think he is just not good in the 2 hole. I’d like to see him hit 9th and go back to being a more patient hitter. I’ve always thought it would be better if he hit ahead of Ichiro because Ichiro doesn’t walk much. I dunno whatever his problem is in the two hole needs to be fixed. That is too good of a spot to waste on a .220ish hitter. I just wish he would get his trade value up so we can dish em to someone who needs a leadoff hitter. Hopefully something happens he is just not good on this team.

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