Patience Is A Virtue
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.