"I see Chone Figgins as the most attractive position player out there this winter.”
-Jayson “WITH A ‘Y’ MOTHERF***ERS” Stark
As anyone who pays any attention to baseball knows, obtaining players via free agency is generally a fairly inefficient method of building a roster. Players who have been in the league long enough to be granted free agency are exponentially more expensive than players with less service time.
They also have lower upside, as players’ performances rarely improve from the form they show during their first six years in the big leagues. That said, free agency works because teams are willing to overpay for older players and this winter will not be any different in that sense.
Which brings us to Figgins—the Angels' stalwart, member of the MLB All-Dickens team along with Norris Hopper and Lastings Milledge (Ted Berg) and free agent to be—who in the quote referenced above serves as the catalyst du jour for Jayson Stark to continue to amaze disgust by maintaining employment as a supposedly knowledgeable commentator on the professional baseball.
Let’s get this mother rolling:
Despite his difficulty making the correct sound that the letters “CHONE” make when placed in that order, Chone Figgins is a very good baseball player. Perhaps it is this nomenclatural idiosyncrasy that Mr. Stark, he of the famously superfluous ‘Y,’ finds so attractive.
Silly names aside, though, Figgins has played every position on the diamond save for first base, pitcher and catcher while getting on base at an above-average clip over the course of more than 4,000 plate appearances.
This is no small feat, as few players in the history of baseball have played as many positions at such a high level and Figgins’ career .363 OBP (Entering Sunday) during a career in which the league average was .337 bests those of Ernie Banks, Carlos Beltran, Justin Morneau, Robin Yount, Kirby Puckett, Eddie Murray, Roberto Clemente and Reggie Jackson, among others. He has also stolen 280 bases at a 74 percent success rate and averaged nine triples per 162 games.
However, doing a couple of things very well makes it very easy to overlook major shortcomings in a player’s game.
With Figgins, the main issue is hitting for power—specifically that he is incapable of it. Of the 157 players who qualified for a batting title in 2009, Figgins’ isolated power of 0.97 is ranked 146th, while among third basemen (Figgins has played 1296 of his 1,300 innings this season at third base) he is ranked dead last (of the 11 players behind him on that list, nine are middle infielders or catchers).
While Figgins’ hilarious lack of power is certainly remarkable in its own right, it is exacerbated by the fact that he does not do anything sustainable going forward well enough to compensate for it.
Unlike other power-starved big league hitters like, say, Ichiro, Figgins does not make enough contact or walk enough to make up for his power deficiency, with a singles-heavy .292 career batting average and walks in roughly 10 percent of his plate appearances—both good figures, but neither so exceptional that they compensate for Figgins’ laughably punchless swing and resulting in a career adjusted OPS+ of 99. Ouch.
Additionally, Figgins will be 32 years old when he arrives at Spring Training next season, and guys who rely on their youthful athleticism for turn groundball outs into singles are generally not good bets to be able to continue doing so into their thirties.
But the point of this column is to hate on Jayson Stark, not Chone Figgins, so let’s get back to that statement on the top of the page about Figgins being the most desirable position player on the market this winter.
We have established the commodity that is Figgins at this point in his career—a 32-year-old third baseman with less-than no power and a skill set that doesn’t suggest sustainability – but is there anything more attractive available this offseason?
A cursory look at a list of available free agents indicates that while this doesn’t look to be the most dynamic winter of player movement, there are a couple of options that are likely stronger plays than Figgins that are immediately identifiable, including Jason Bay and Matt Holiday.
Jayson Stark is probably wrong in his opinion that Chone Figgins is the most attractive free agent on the market this winter, but due to the dearth of interesting players available, not nearly as wrong as I initially assumed.
However, there is a whole lot going in baseball right now as Albert Pujols and Joe Mauer wrap up historic offensive performances, the Rangers, Orioles and Athletics are making franchise-altering turnarounds in terms of talent development and the American League continues to increase the talent differential between itself and the cute little National League, that there is no reason to be writing about Chone Figgins.
He is a useful but unspectacular player who happens to be entering the open market at a time when his only competition is a whole bunch of other similarly uninteresting players.
Bottom Line: Jayson Stark is a hack.