Sunday, July 03, 2011

Chone Figgins and History

Chone Figgins used to be a pretty good player, right? He had a good season or two with the Angels and those Angels were blasted when they allowed Figgins to get away. Now the Angels look like geniuses. Figgins has been so bad since coming to the Seattle Mariners, that it's getting to the side of historic. Since 1961 (the last fifty years), only fifteen players have had more than 250 at bats and finished the season with an OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage) lower than .480. Figgins is sitting at .478 for the season.

Fifteen players seems like a lot. But not when you consider that seven of them compiled their sub-.480 OPS seasons in 1968--that famous year of the pitcher. Two others performed the feat the year before in 1967. So that means that only six players since that 1968 season have compiled worse offensive numbers than Chone Figgins. Who were they?

Rob Picciolo was a rookie for the Oakland Athletics in 1977 when he played 148 games for that team and compiled 446 plate appearances. He ended up with only 84 hits and nine walks for the season and finished with a .477 OPS and a 31 OPS+. Incredibly, Picciolo was allowed to participate in eight more seasons after that as a utility player. He ended up with a -4.4 WAR for his career. Yeesh.

John Shelby performed the feat in 1989 for the Dodgers. Shelby was a player with a similar game to Figgins except he was an outfielder. But he ran a little bit and had four above-league average seasons prior to 1989 but it all fell apart. Shelby just couldn't do anything in 1989 and finished with a .466 OPS in 371 plate appearances. The bad news for the Mariners? Shelby never really recovered and would have two more terrible seasons before leaving the game.

Mario Mendoza became famous for all the wrong reasons. There aren't too many baseball fans that haven't heard the term, "Mendoza Line." That sobriquet began in 1979 when Mendoza compiled 401 plate appearances for the (yup) Seattle Mariners and hit a non-robust .198. To this day, if a batter such as Chone Figgins or Dan Uggla bat below .200, they are considered below the "Mendoza Line."  Mendoza managed to play three more seasons after that historic season and finished his career with a 41 OPS+ and a career WAR of -4.7.

Argenis Antonio "Angel" Salazar played five years in the big leagues and joins our list for his 1987 season with the Kansas City Royals. That season, his slash line was .205/.219/.246 in 332 plate appearances. His 23 OPS+ that season ranks among the worst for that many plate appearances in a season. Salazar finished his career after one more year and had a lifetime OPS+ of 36 and a WAR of -1.8. Yikes.

Doug Flynn might be one of the worst players in the last fifty years who got to play more than ten seasons. The infielder played for Mets, Expos, Reds, Rangers and Tigers. In 1977, Flynn was given a combined 333 plate appearances between the Reds and Mets and finished that season with an amazingly bad .445 OPS. The sick thing is that the Mets gave Flynn 1,152 plate appearances AFTER that season! He responded with two more seasons under .600 in OPS and his OPS+ in those two seasons was 61 and 62. How? Why? Flynn finished his career with a WAR of -12.1. In nine of his last eleven seasons, Flynn had an OPS+ of 70 or less.

That leaves us with Luis Gomez, another "utility" infielder who in 1980 was given 307 plate appearances by the Atlanta Braves. His .451 OPS that season is the absolute worst for any player in the last 50 years with more than 250 at bats. Gomez is another one of those players that somehow managed to stick around for eight years despite a 40 lifetime OPS+ and a career WAR of -5.2.

So this is the kind of company that Chone Figgins is keeping. The Mariners have to keep playing him because he is making $9 million this season and will make that kind of money right through 2013.  Figgins has been on base all of 64 times in 70 games. His walks have dried up and so has his ability to steal bases as he's been thrown out six times in fifteen attempts. Last season, Figgins had a sub-standard season, but even that season is looking grandiose compared to this one.

Chone Figgins bounced back some in the second half last season and he will probably come back a bit in this second half. But this is not the player the Mariners thought they were getting and as we have seen, if the season ended tomorrow, Figgins would have the seventh worst OPS since 1979 for players with more than 250 at bats. It's been mind-boggling to say the least.

1 comment:

John Sheridan said...

Chone Figgins can do one thing to redeem his integrity. Use his incredibly generous, over-paid salary to help the Mariners invest in new talent. Crazy idea you say! In 1970 Detroit Tigers play Al Kaline said "thanks, but no thanks" to $ 100,000 bonus offered and said to invest the money in young talent to help the team. At the very least Figgons should offer back a percentage of his mega-millions to farm team player's dinners on the road. And then be a man and apologize to Mariner fans for under performing, again.