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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.

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

The Dodgers Roll The Dice April 2, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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The Dodgers are quickly overtaking the Giants on my “Favorite Teams Formerly of New York City” list. First of all, they grabbed Brian Wilson, and the audacity of using a World Series closer who saved 48 games in 2010 to set up a converted catcher rubbed me the right way. (Kenley Jansen is easily at the top of my “Favorite Converted Catchers” list.) Plus, watching Don Mattingly grow up and do less stupid stuff has been one of the best parts of Joe Torre‘s retirement.

The Dodgers have a couple of lotto tickets on the bench right now. Wilson, who sat out most of the last two seasons following his oblique injury, is a major risk as a power pitcher, but if he’s healthy again, the combination of a confident Wilson in the eighth and a Jansen whose ERA has dropped in each of the last two seasons could be the surprise bullpen of the year, especially if you consider Adrian Garcia’s argument at Lasorda’s Lair in favor of Paco Rodriguez as a potential set-up man.

But wait! There’s more!

Wilson isn’t the only player to make the squad after sitting out 2013. Chone Figgins was on the Marlins’ minor league squad last year but was released early in the season. The 5’8″ switch hitter came out of his involuntary retirement to sign as a bench option for the Dodgers, putting up a .340 OBP in spring training despite a .200 batting average. Figgins is continuing his trend into the regular season, since he’s appeared twice as a pinch hitter and walked each time (probably due to his minuscule strike zone). Figgins won’t start much this year, but if he can maintain his spring OBP into the regular season he’ll be a true asset for the club.