Does Figgy Deserve a Spot?

Spring training “competitions” are usually nonsense, no matter what message is spewed by the team’s management (this is in regard to all clubs, not just the Mets). Management has predetermined thoughts about the lineup and most of the spots on the 25-man roster, and so spring training is used to support their “prevaluations” made long before pitchers and catchers report.

For example, is first base really an open competition? Both Ike Davis and Chris Carter are hitting the snot out of the ball, but we all know that — barring injury — Dan Murphy is the Opening Day first baseman. Why? Because Murphy proved satisfactory to the upper levels of Mets management based on his 2009 performance — if he wasn’t, we would be watching Adam LaRoche in a Mets uniform right now. (Note I stated “satisfactory” according to Mets management, rather than my or the popular opinion.)

Similarly, Angel Pagan would have to seriously falter — and Gary Matthews, Jr. put on a Roy Hobbs demonstration — to lose his grip on centerfield. Yes, Pagan’s mental issues were frustrating, but after what he did in the batter’s box from July through September, you can’t not put him in centerfield come April.

But another individual who seemed to “earn” a spot on the roster based 2009 was Nelson Figueroa. He wasn’t so “lights out” to deserve being named the #5 starter, but he did well enough in September to be given the status of “his job to lose” — and then if he lost that rotation spot, would be moved into the long man / swing man role. After all, Figgy averaged a little over 6 IP per start and posted a 3.76 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in that final month. His full MLB numbers as a starter for the season were similar, and his AAA stats were outstanding. In short, there wasn’t much more Figgy could do to earn some kind of consideration for 2010.

Yet, the message we’re getting from various sources is that the Mets want Jon Niese to “win” the #5 spot. Not because Niese did anything of consequence at the MLB level last year, and not because he was especially dominating in AAA (he was OK to good, but not dominating, for Buffalo). Rather, the Mets want him to be the #5 starter because they’ve been getting heat about the suckiness of their farm system for several years, and they want to prove to all the “experts” that the negative evaluations are off base (hmm … smells similar to the forcing of square peg Dan Murphy into the round hole that is first base).

This “open competition” for the #5 spot in the rotaton is reminiscent of 2007, when Aaron Heilman was told he’d have a “fair shot” to be a starter. Heilman pitched very well as a starter in winter ball, then was the best starter in spring training, yet Brian Bannister was given the nod. Why? Because despite all the hot air, the Mets never intended on giving Heilman a rotation spot — their minds were made up long before pitchers and catchers reported. It would’ve taken several injuries to others plus 25 no-hit innings by Heilman for him to crack the rotation. Similarly, Figueroa will have to pitch like a young Dwight Gooden to have a chance to beat out Niese this spring. Is that right or wrong?

The kid-loving Mets fan has a fair argument — that the Mets should go with Niese because he’s young, and he’s the future. Over the long run, it makes more sense to have Niese go 8-10 but get a full season of MLB experience under his belt, than let the 35-year-old Figueroa put up similar numbers. I get it; but, we’re assuming that Figueroa and Niese will be similar pitchers in 2010. Personally, I’m not so sure, and if indeed the Mets are serious about the postseason, I would lean toward Figueroa, because to me, he has proven he can be at least an average #5 starter. Niese, on the other hand, has proven nothing to me yet. He might be good enough to win 8-10 games but he might as easily lose 10-15 games — I’m not sure. Two years from now, I expect Niese to develop and be much better, but right now, I have nothing substantial to go on.

At the same time, based on what I’ve seen of Niese’s raw stuff and of Figueroa’s competitiveness, I believe there could be room for both pitchers in the rotation. Put more simply: given the choice, who would you give the ball to 32 times from the selection of Oliver Perez, John Maine, and Nelson Figueroa? Of course, there is no way in hell that Perez isn’t given a spot, due to the $24M left on his contract — yet if I had to take one or the other for a 162-game season my choice, today, would be Figgy. Maine has a lesser salary but it is still in the seven digits ($3.3M to be exact) so he also will be handed a spot, regardless of his ST performance. But again, who is more likely to make 32 starts — Maine or Figueroa? And assuming both started 32 games, would you expect Maine to be appreciably better than Figgy? If so, based on what? His 15-win season in 2007, which occurred before his debilitating shoulder injury? I’m not convinced that Maine will ever return to the promise that had us drooling from April through July 2007. He has regressed ever since — physically, mentally, and emotionally. To me, Maine and Perez are very much the same, in that both are wildly, maddeningly inconsistent, and ticking time bombs. It’s OK to have one such pitcher in the rotation to gamble on, but two? That’s really rolling the dice.

But back to Figueroa; does he deserve to be the #5 starter, if he continues to have a strong spring training? You would think so, but it seems more and more like a remote possibility — despite Niese’s unsightly ERA thus far. At the very least, he should be penciled in as the long man out of the bullpen — but even that appears to be less than a sure thing. The main problem for Figgy is that he’s not a “stuff” guy; in other words, he won’t impress anyone on the sheer strength of his ability. But he’s proven to be a competitor, and a survivor — someone who will take the ball every fifth day and find a way to give his team a chance to win most of the time. He’ll have one bad outing out of every five, and one great outing out of every 10, and everything else will be pretty much the same: 6 innings of unremarkable pitching that otherwise keeps his team in the game. What more is expected of a fifth starter?

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. tarheelcoach March 17, 2010 at 8:31 am
    “But he’s proven to be a competitor, and a survivor — someone who will take the ball every fifth day and find a way to give his team a chance to win most of the time.”

    Really? The Mets were 3-13 in games Figgy pitched, 2-7 in his starts.

    Misch – 3-4 in games he started
    Nieve – 3-5
    Niese – 3-2

    What does competitiveness matter if you are no good? Every good pitcher is a ‘stuff’ guy – that’s how you get people out!

    Two last points –
    1.) Take away Figgy’s last start, and his ‘impressive’ last month was 29 innings, 33 hits, and a 4.97 ERA. Sorry, not exactly stunning.
    2.) What is the old saying? Ignore what you see in March and September. Do that and you don’t even mention Figgy’s name.

    Figgy is what he is – a AAA pitcher who we root for because we see him pitch and say “I can do that.” He’s the Greg Butler of the Mets – the guy who is a fan favorite because he is an everyman, but who has no real talent or chance to succeed in the majors.

  2. This site hates the metsies! March 17, 2010 at 9:47 am
    tarheelcoach… you will be banned for making sense on this site. Janish knows nothing as he has proven over and over again in his pathetic rants, but disagree with his ignorance is illegal.
  3. isuzudude March 17, 2010 at 10:03 am
    Great topic, Joe. If results matter the most – and not helping a top prospect gain experience, or keeping guys who are out of options around – than Figgy is the man for the #5 spot. He’s proven he belongs time and time again and is absolutely the most reliable pitcher the Mets have for that role. However, if 2010 is already deemed as a throwaway season, then I can see the logic behind giving Niese the job. As I can also see demoting Figgy to the minors in favor of other arms who may make an impact for the Mets in the future and are out of options (Misch, Nieve). I’m rooting for Figueroa to make the team because I like him and I feel he deserves the shot, but I’m not optimistic.

    tarheelcoach: the stats you choose to share really reval only half the story. The Mets were 3-13 in games Figgy pitched, but he only started 10 of those games, so how fair is it to peg Figgy with a loss if he was entering a game as a reliever already facing a 5+ run deficit? Not fair at all. So that takes away the 1-5 record the Mets had in games Figgy relieved in. Also, in games Figgy lost as a starter, his run support was 2, 5, 1, 3, 2, 3, 1, and 1. In 3 of those games Figgy would have needed to throw a shutout just to get a chance to win (and not have the bullpen blow the lead for him)! That also equals an average of 2.25 runs per game. Not even Tim Lincecum or Roy Halladay would stand much of a chance at winning many games if their run support were 2.25 either. So obviously, you need to look at more than just wins and losses when determining if a pitcher is any good.

    Additionally, why are you so quick to take away Figgy’s best start? Did it not count the same as any of his other starts? Was it not against a major league baseball team, during the regular season? Why are we picking and choosing what games shouldn’t count in his favor? I also don’t remember anyone using the word “stunning” to describe Figueroa’s performance. Joe did surmise: “he will take the ball every fifth day and find a way to give his team a chance to win most of the time.” No one is penciling Figueroa into this season’s all star game. But it’s hard to disagree with Joe that Figueroa gives the Mets a strong chance to win in the majority of his starts, as long as he gets adequate run support.

    And if we play along and take away Figgy’s March and September, you’re still left with a pitcher who was 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA and 24 Ks in 26 innings for the Mets in August (not great, but certainly good enough for a 5th starter), as well as with a pitcher who was 7-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 17 starts at AAA, which is fantastic. Those stats most definitely beckon mentioning of Figgy’s name. Or are we also tossing away August and minor league accomplishments, too, to fit your argument?

  4. Mic March 17, 2010 at 10:41 am
    The problem with your logic dude is it resebles the same logic that the Mets PR machine uses to justify not acquiring another starter.
  5. Mic March 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

    You open a can of worms early in your discourse. To me this is the best spring since 2005 0r 2006 because THERE is open competition at multiple positions…in fact I wish 2B was one of them.

    I think Fmart DOES have a chance to make the team in CF. I think Jacobs and Chris Carter have played themselves into the discussion at 1st. AND Figs could make the pitching roster.

    Which THEN brings me to this debate: Omar santos, Carter/Murphy, and Sarge/Pagan even a reliever (sean green) could be then bandied about as trade fodder.

    Tampa has excess pitching, seattle and Texas need a catcher. Where could there be a match?

  6. isuzudude March 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm
    Really Mic? Cause I never heard one whisper that the Mets failed to land Lackey/Piniero/Marquis/Sheets/Harden/etc because they retained Figueroa.

    My logic is that Figueroa deserves a shot to win the #5 job over his current competition (Niese, Nieve, Misch) because his statistics show he is admirably capable for that role. I believe the Mets logic for not landing a starting pitcher this year was because they are foolishly counting on Johan/Ollie/Maine to stay healthy and get back to their 2007 forms, while also foolishly counting on Mike Pelfrey to pitch like he did in 2008 and not 2009. And I believe their logic also told them that either most of the pitchers available this offseason were too rich for their blood (Sheets for $10 mil, Lackey for $82.8 mil, Wolf for $30 mil), or wouldn’t have provided an upgrade over what is already in-house (Garland, Padilla, Looper), which is debatable. But their inefficiency at improving the starting pitching had absolutely nothing to do with Nelson Figueroa.

    Perhaps I misunderstood your point?

  7. gary s. March 17, 2010 at 5:21 pm
    no offense guys, but we really need to get the season started if we have to argue about a career jorneyman on his best day being the mets 5th starter.imho figueroa stinks, nieve should be a bullpen guy and niese is 22 years old and in 10 years has a good shot at being 32 years old(thanks to casey stengel for the saying).April 5 (opening day) which i have a ticket for,can’t come soon enough.
  8. joejanish March 17, 2010 at 6:16 pm
    ‘dude – thanks for the support. And as you reiterated for me, I never said Figgy was “stunning”.

    tarheelcoach – are you actually a coach? Because most coaches know that “competitiveness” does matter, and does have value. Figueroa has proven himself in every corner of the world and has proven to be very good in AAA. Niese, Nieve, and the others have proven, in comparison, very little above AA. As ‘dude suggests, if the Mets want to believe they have a shot at the postseason, right now Figgy is a more reliable — if unspectacular — option in the #5 spot.

    And if you want to judge everyone purely on stats then tell me, on paper, who looks better than Figueroa? Since you arbitrarily removed Figeuroa’s last game, I’ll arbitrarily remove Niese’s best outing (vs Houston) … and his final numbers are 23 hits allowed in 18 IP with an ERA around 5.50. Not exactly “stunning”, either. Do the same with Nieve and he has 33 hits in 30 IP with a very nice 3.60 ERA — so maybe he’s the “winner”, assuming he’s healthy.

    Disagree on the “stuff” comment. Did Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine have truly “great stuff”? Did Tommy John or Jim Kaat? Does Jamie Moyer? Aaron Cook?

    And Oliver Perez supposedly has “great stuff” … what has that done for him, other than have two good years (out of 8) and rob the Mets of $36M?

  9. gary s. March 17, 2010 at 8:16 pm
    joe, the perez signing was not a robbery..when u own a bank and leave the safe unlocked, put up a note saying u left it open and than leave the key to the bank in the front door it’s hard to call the police and say u were robbed.Like i was saying, i need some real games to commence..
  10. joejanish March 17, 2010 at 9:26 pm
    gary – I stand corrected, LOL !
  11. tarheelcoach March 18, 2010 at 7:25 am
    Cook has one of the best sinkers in the game, so yes, he does have nasty stuff.

    Maddux had an unbelievable changeup and great movement on all of his pitches, so that was definitely nasty.

    Glavine’s circle change was probably the best in baseball for the great majority of his career, so he certainly qualifies as well.

    Competitiveness can help you be successful, but without stuff and talent its meaningless.

    What is Figgy’s plus pitch? His 86 MPH fastball, or his flat slider?

  12. isuzudude March 18, 2010 at 8:55 am
    Why are we comparing Figgy to future hall of famers? All the Mets need for him to be is a #5 starter. The point is totally being missed here. Figueroa does not need to throw a 95 MPH heater, or a 12 to 6 curveball, or a splitter to be successful. All he needs to do is record outs and keep his team in the game, regardless if he maxes out at 86 MPH or has no A+ pitch. His 2009 season, minor and major league action combined, along with his strong start this preseason, shows he can do exactly that. That should be the end of the conversation.
  13. CatchDog March 18, 2010 at 8:59 am
    In my opinion, Figgy’s should be in the pen as the longman and spot starter. His splits are decent and he has a rubber arm. Figz problem is that he gets exposed facing the lineup the second time thru the order. Batters hit .290 the first time but slug a whopping .444 the second time they face him.

    Since Escobar appears done, Calero may need a bit more rehab time, Parnell has options and needs to work on his secondary pitches and Green is just plain ineffective (but has options also), I’d go break camp with the following players: Niese as #5 and the pen of Takahashi & Feliciano from the left side along with Figgy, Nieve, Igarashi, Mejia and Frankie.

    Let’s face it, unless there is some type of divine intervention, young Mejia is going to be part of the roster as evidenced by his one inning stint in yesterday’s game to go along with the whispering (glee) coming from the Met’s camp. I don’t agree but it certainly appears that way. Hopefully Kiko is ready to go and Omar comes to his senses.

    My pen choices only cause one player; Pat Misch to be exposed to waivers. And although Sean Green might be an expensive minor leaguer (975k), the Mets spent that same amount of money on Cory Sullivan last season to wear a Bison uni for much of the season.

    Give Figgy a shot. And at some point when Parnell is ready, he can replace the guy who is underachieving. I wouldn’t be surprised if that player wasn’t Figgy either. But considering Omar and Jerry’s roster management skills, Nelson may want to keep an empty suitcase nearby anyway.

  14. joejanish March 18, 2010 at 10:53 am
    tarheelcoach – darn, you got me. I guess Figgy won’t be a HOFer after all. So, looking at the rest of the Mets rotation, who has that “great stuff” you’re looking for? Hmm … I guess the only solution is to send Johan out there with his nasty change-up every day, and hope his arm doesn’t fall off. Maybe K-Rod can go back to starting as well. Rodriguez and Santana and three days of falling bananas.
  15. mic March 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm
    Dude: Yes you missed my point in fact you explained my sarcasm beautifully.

    For 3 yrs WE have all complained of apathy with respect to the Mets front office in their approach to the rotation. Yes they acquired Santana, but we have stoically protested the stance of taking what they get from Maine, Ollie and whoever. this yr is EXACTLY the same.

    Yes Maine to me is a good pitcher, but he has injury issues. How many innings does he have?
    Ollie has yet to mature on the mound.
    Niese and Nieve are hardly known quantities. I am fine with the battle for #5. But where is the battle for #2?

    While I am not upset about the non-deals for Lackey, harden or Sheets, I still think there is a trade that needs to be made for a starter. AND I dont think July 31st is the target date to be set for a deal either.