One of the things that always piques my interest is a conversation in regards to “value”. It can be discussed in the abstract sense (leadership, personality, energy, grittitude) or more specifically (WAR, Runs Created, Runs Prevented, Ass Slaps Dished Out To Teammates).
But in my mind, whether you fall into the “pay for intangibles” camp or not, one thing we all ought to be agreeing upon is that salary matters. A guy on a rookie contract is far more valuable than a veteran making $20 million if their on-field production is equal. Having the former allows the GM to go out and spend that money on filling another need for the team.
So I hope to have several of these types of discussions throughout the early portion of the Hot Stove calendar. Today, I’m kicking things off with one guy who I think is one of the most interesting cases – Chone Figgins.
It would not surprise me to learn that the majority of baseball fans still consider Figgins to be a fairly young player. Fact is, he’s not. He didn’t get his first taste of the bigs until he was 24 and didn’t have his first full season until he was 26. By the time Spring Training comes around, Figgins will be 32 years old. For a player whose speed is often touted as the most desirable aspect of his game, this does not bode well for Chone nor anyone who signs him to a multi-year deal.
Looking at the greatest baseball website of all time, they have Bip Roberts, Patsy Tebeau, Jack Rothrock, Mookie Wilson, and Sam Mertes as Figgins’ top statistically comparable players through the age of 30. Out of those five, only Mertis was able to produce at the league average level once they hit 33 years of age and that year (1906) was still a steep dropoff from his previous levels of production.
Another aspect of Figgins’ reputation that I personally feel is overvalued is his versatility. Is there value to this? Absolutely, as long as he isn’t awful (I mean, Adam Dunn can call himself a shortstop. Doesn’t mean you want him there). It does give managers and GMs some flexibility when you know that a certain player can be moved around the diamond without much negative repercussions.
But is Figgins really that player? Or is it essentially a myth that continues to be propagated? We know that Figgins is a pretty good third baseman. Both UZR and +/- has him as above average at the position. He is also respectable at second base as well, although information is limited due to the fact that he doesn’t play second very often anymore. And as he grows older, we’ll see him there less and less. He hasn’t played SS or CF since 2006, and again, as he approaches his mid-thirties, we should expect this to continue. So at this point, he’s pretty much a 3B full time who can be a 2B in a pinch (think Mark Teahen, but, you know, good).
However, there is one aspect of Figgins’ game that does tend to age well. His plate discipline has actually been improving over these past couple of seasons. In 2007, Figgins swung at 22.3% of pitches thrown outside the stroke zone according to FanGraphs. For a guy with as little power as Figgins, this is too high. So he came back in 2008 and performed much better, to the tune of 16.5% and followed that up with a 14.9% this season, 4th lowest among all qualified hitters. This is important since not only has this resulted in a career high .395 OBP in 2009, it allows him to maintain a higher than normal BABiP (making contact with pitches out of the zone will often end poorly unless you are Vlad Guerrero).
So with all this information at our disposal, I ask – what’s the value of Chone Figgins? Since 2007, FanGraphs calculates that he has been worth a total of $50.9 million, with a high of $27.4 million in 2009 (while getting paid a paltry $5.78 million). But with Figgins finally eligible for free agency, would you pay Figgins $50 million over the next three years?
Let the discussion begin!