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Chone Figgins is below the Mendoza line, so why has he earned his spot? May 7, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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It’s no secret to regular readers, if any, that I’m a fan of Chone Figgins. The Dodgers picked him up as a free agent and kept him on the roster this year. He’s hitting abysmally – in 15 plate appearances, he’s mustered only a single hit, and that was way back on April 12th – and at age 36 he isn’t getting any younger. Nevertheless, I think he’s earned his spot.

First, the Dodgers knew what they were getting. The last time Figgins hit above the Mendoza Line (.200) was 2010, and he sat out 2013 entirely. No one brought him on expecting him to be an everyday player with a high batting average. What they had a right to expect was a player who reliably walks 10% of the time – well above the league average of 7.7% – and who won’t strike out very often1. Thus far, Figgins has given them exactly that.

Although he has only hit once in his 15 plate appearances, he’s walked 5 times, with those walks spread out fairly evenly throughout the season. Those walks give him a tiny slugging percentage but an enormous OBP – hitting one out of every 15 isn’t bad if you’re walking five more, yielding an OBP of .400 (even with a SLG of .100). Figgins is low-variance – you can put him in to pinch-hit knowing that he’ll regularly walk. He may never hit a home run (and he hasn’t since April of 2012), but he’ll definitely walk regularly. (This is probably due to his being 5’8″ and it being impossible to locate a pitch in his strike zone.)

I have no delusions that Figgins is going to continue to walk 1 out of every 3 times he comes to the plate, but I also don’t think he’ll continue hitting quite so badly. He may not stay at .400 OBP all year, but he also won’t stay at a .100 batting average.

Just for fun, I dug up some other players who had seasons below .200 BA and above .375 OBP. Matt Stairs is the king here, getting 129 plate appearances in 99 games for Philadelphia in 2009. Tyler Flowers got around my “no pitchers and no catchers” restriction in 2009 by appearing in more than 50% of his games DH or PH. Otherwise, it would be easy to find catchers who are kept on the roster not for their hitting but for their defense, and since light-hitting catchers hit 8th, they’ll earn a lot of walks just based on position in the batting order.

 

Rk Player Year OBP BA PA Age Tm Lg G AB BB SO OPS Pos
1 Chone Figgins 2014 .400 .100 15 36 LAD NL 13 10 5 3 .500 *H/75
2 Nick Johnson 2010 .388 .167 98 31 NYY AL 24 72 24 23 .693 *D/H3
3 Tyler Flowers 2009 .350 .188 20 23 CHW AL 10 16 3 8 .600 /*2HD
4 Matt Stairs 2009 .357 .194 129 41 PHI NL 99 103 23 30 .735 *H/97D
5 Dallas McPherson 2008 .400 .182 15 27 FLA NL 11 11 4 5 .764 /*H5
6 J.J. Furmaniak 2007 .364 .176 22 27 OAK AL 16 17 3 8 .599 /HD46957
7 Michael Tucker 2006 .378 .196 74 35 NYM NL 35 56 16 14 .700 H7/93
8 Brian Myrow 2005 .360 .200 25 28 LAD NL 19 20 5 8 .610 *H/3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/7/2014.

—–
1Probably due to being 5’8″ and it being impossible to locate a pitch in his strike zone.

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