2009 Analysis: Nelson Figueroa

figgy-pitchOf all the late-season auditions, Nelson Figueroa was the most impressive. Ironically, his numbers don’t support what our eyes told us — that Figgy is capable of pitching well enough to give his team a chance to win.

After a spectacular AAA campaign in which he posted a 2.25 ERA through 17 starts, Nelson made 10 big-league starts that were less than spectacular — but good enough to warrant consideration for a 2010 MLB contract.

In those 10 starts, Figueroa had a disappointing 2-8 record with a so-so 4.19 ERA. But one must take a harder look at the numbers, and combine them with his competitiveness, to get a better gauge on his value.

Nelson Figueroa has the heart of a lion and an unflappable calmness when faced with adversity. The statmongers can poo-poo those traits but those are intangibles that are rarely learned. Anyone who doubts their impact may be directed to Oliver Perez, Mike Pelfrey, or any of the dozens of “great talents” who can’t seem to “put it all together”. Figgy may be short on talent, but he’s long on savvy and gets the most from what he has.

Though he had a couple tough outings, for the most part Figueroa was strong as a starter, with a 1.39 WHIP and 7.3 K/9. His complete-game shutout in game 162 was his best as a big leaguer, and capped a strong finish to his season — he allowed only 4 runs in his final 22 innings.

One stat I find interesting: he had a decision in all ten of his starts. What that tells me without going to the game logs is that he hung around long enough in every game to either get the win or loss. Perhaps that’s not an impressive fact for a frontline starter, but for someone who would compete for a back-end rotation spot, it’s an indication that he’ll keep his team within striking distance — and could flourish on a strong club. That really is the crux of Nelson Figueroa — he is not a superstar, and will rarely win a game all on his own. But, he IS a team player, and will be as good as the team he has behind him. Think about that for a moment. It sounds unimpressive and unsexy on the surface, but how many #4 or #5 starters are as good as their team? More frequently, the back-end starters drag a team down to the individual’s inferior level.

The two things I like most about Figgy: he’s unflappable and he’s a ballplayer. By “ballplayer” I mean he plays the entire game — he fields his position extremely well, he backs up bases, he bunts well, he runs the bases well, and he is not an automatic out at the plate. In short, he does everything that he can do. That may seem like a “little” thing, but all of those things add up and can make a difference in a ballgame.

But where does Figgy fit in for 2010? I think the Mets would be smart to offer him at least a minimum-salary, guaranteed MLB contract. Give him a shot to be the long man or possibly the #5 starter. If he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, you have a solid replacement waiting in AAA when the inevitable occurs — and it will occur. There are worse — and more expensive — options.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Mike October 14, 2009 at 11:32 am
    Joe, couldn’t agree more. Figgy is the kind of pitcher you want on a 40 man roster. It’s not even about intangibles. You can measure his innings pitched, his punting and bat handling abilities, and even the number of times he is used to pitch run late in games. That is the kind of role he can play. If he is the 25th man on the roster or if he is the 5th starter he will give you the same output: maximum effort and a will to win. He deserves a contract.
  2. TheDZA October 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm
    At least we can say this now – earlier in the season after being designated – we may have never have known.
    Mets Motto: do all that can be asked of you, then get mistreated…and with those millions on Perez who can barely make the 4th inning.
    Only 4 runs in his last 22…I hope Fig gets his contract.

    Wonder if we will be able to say the same for Tim Redding? He had some decent starts in his last few games (I don’t know of his intangibles).

  3. hdarvick October 14, 2009 at 9:57 pm
    After becoming part of the rotation replacing Santana on August 25th, Nelson Figueroa allowed 18 earned runs in 50.1 innings (3.22 ERA), going 2-6. That averages 6+ innings per start.

    In his 6 losses, the Mets scored a total of 11 runs.

    If you eliminate his first Jurgens game, in 7 of his 8 starts in the rotation, he allowed 12 earned runs in 45.1 innings (2.38 ERA). Not bad. He also has a rubber arm – he can easily throw 110 pitches every fifth start.

    Nelson becomes a free agent after the last game of the 2009 World Series. That means he can sign with any ML team that offers him a contract. He has stated publicly that he wants to continue pitching for the Mets. He’s also said he’s the Mets Geico – low-cost insurance. Don’t you think there’s a Major League team out there who would sign Nelson as their #5, #4, or even #3 starter?

  4. murph October 14, 2009 at 11:33 pm
    I am a fan of Mr. Figueroa, and I would be happy to see him return to the Mets. But now is not the time to be sentimental.
    Let’s face it: If Figueroa (or Broadway, Dessens, Redding or Misch) are on the 25 man roster next year, it means the Mets did not bring in enough talent to put together a contending ballclub.
  5. joejanish October 15, 2009 at 12:35 am
    murph – I’m going to disagree slightly. If Figgy, Broadway, Dessens, Redding, AND Misch are on the 25-man, then yes, the Mets messed up. But a championship club can absolutely use the services of one or two from that group.

    Remember the Phillies counted on Chan Ho Park all year; the Yankees had people like Sergio Mitre, Chad Gaudin, and Brett Tomko; the Rockies used Josh Fogg and Matt Belisle; and the Twins needed the services of Bobby Keppel and RA Dickey.

    In other words, a veteran swingman / journeyman can and often does contribute to a championship season — few if any clubs have all 12 pitching spots filled by good- to excellent pitchers.

    By my count, the Mets are in need of AT LEAST two starters, a setup man, another lefty to pair with Feliciano, a 7th inning guy, and a long man/ swing man in the Darren Oliver mold. Would it make sense to fill ALL of those spots from the outside? Is it even possible?

    I’m not suggesting that you pencil in Figgy as the #3 starter. But considering the Mets’ lack of pitching talent and the dearth of available arms, the Mets would be silly not to give Figueroa a shot at one of the openings. It’s either him or another wave of ST auditions for the likes of Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez.

  6. murph October 15, 2009 at 12:58 am
    I hear you, Joe.
    And I agree that contenders need veterans to fill in the cracks during the long, 162 game season.

    But how many of the eight playoff teams this year would have taken these guys?

    The fact that other than Wagner, no Mets were picked up by playoff contenders has to mean something. (yes, I know that the waivers-blocking had something to do with that, too, i.e., Sheffield).

    These guys are serviceable fill-ins for also-ran teams, but not contending teams. My point is that good enough for the Mets does not mean good enough for a contender.

  7. joejanish October 15, 2009 at 2:16 am
    I’ll take Figueroa as my swing man / spot starter over RA Dickey or Josh Fogg any day of the week. In fact I’d take him as my #5 over Chad Gaudin (and over Oliver Perez, for that matter).

    There simply isn’t enough adequate — much less good — pitching to go around. The Mets are going to have to pool all their resources just to fill 2 or 3 of their major holes on the staff, and once they do that it’s on to the scrap heap, where the likes of Kip Wells and Adam Eaton command 7-figure contracts.

    My point is we need to be realistic. The Mets aren’t going to assemble a lights-out pitching staff in one winter, and they’ll need to spend their resources intelligently to put together a competitive staff. I keep looking back at the deals that brought in Scott Schoeneweis, JJ Putz, Tim Redding and other “big” names for the middle relief / back end of the rotation and compare them to the “unknowns” like Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano, Darren Oliver … which moves worked out better?

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