Is Chone Figgins a Buy-Low?

By Eno Sarris //

The Mariners are surprisingly close to first in their division despite having amassed the second-least runs in the American League. Some of the blame for the scoring woes rests on their second-highest-priced position player, Chone Figgins. With the injury problems at third base across the league, baseball fans both real and fantasy want to know if Figgins can provide value this year.

This early in the season it’s hard to say much about certain aspects of a player’s game. Power, for example, doesn’t become reliable until the season is basically over. Power swings happen to players all the time. But, thanks to a famous article by “Pizza Cutter,” we can know which aspects of a game are reliable at this point. Mr. Cutter ran the numbers and found plate appearance thresholds at which stats could predict future performance from that player at a 70% reliability or better. Here are the stat thresholds that Figgins has passed:

50 PA – swing percentage
100 PA – contact rate, response bias (both just missed at 50… the real number is probably around 70)
150 PA – K rate, line drive rate, pitches/PA
200 PA – BB rate, grounder rate, GB/FB ratio

So basically we can best look at Figgins’ approach at the plate and batted ball mix right now. Looking solely at these numbers, there is reason for some cautious optimism.

At the plate, Figgins is swinging more than ever (43.5% this year, career 40.2%, average is 45.5%) and making more contact than he ever has (90.9% this year, career 86.7%, average is 80.9%). That’s right, in those two categories he’s sporting career highs. Since he’s not swinging more than the average player, it seems like this approach is a good thing. We see that his strikeout rate is also a career best (11.2% this year, 17.1% career), and since it’s backed up by his per-swing numbers and he’s had 192 plate appearances so far, we can believe he’s made strides there. Lower strikeout rates mean more balls in play and more opportunities for hits.

The unfortunate thing is that his walk rate is also at a career-low (5.2% this year, 10% career). Perhaps we can say that he will have more opportunities for hits, but since he’s walking less, his base-stealing opportunities should remain static. For every walk he loses, he gains at least a chance at a hit.

Of course, not every chance at a hit is equal. Line drives are the best batted ball in terms of batting average, then grounders, then fly balls. Since Figgins has very little power (.089 ISO, .150 is average), it would be best for him to hit the ball on the ground. Well, he’s showing his career-best ground ball percentage, and he’s only 8 PAs short of reliability there. It’s paired with the worst line drive rate of his career, though, so once again we have a mixed bag.

Then there’s the matter of Figgins’ batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which is very low at .226. Using Figgins’ mix of batted ball types – which are mostly reliable at this point – we can find an expected BABIP for Figgins – .312. (Check here for a more detailed explanation of the xBABIP calculator.) Given his lack of power, batted ball mix, and xBABIP, we could expect Figgins to hit as well as .260 going forward. He’s still attempting steals, and though his success rate has fallen this year, he’s going to get the green light from his team.

It’s reasonable to expect a middling batting average and a solid amount of steals from Figgins going forward, just like the Bloomberg Sports fantasy projections predicted before the season. At 33, he may be declining, but he’ll still help teams, fantasy and real, with his play this year.

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