Figgins at Third and Leading Off

By jason keen
Updated: November 21, 2009

Nobody has ever doubted the ability of Jimmy Rollins to play major league baseball. Despite the occasional slump, his yearly average of 39 doubles, 10 triples, 16 home runs, 36 stolen bases, and 104 runs along with a career .274 batting average speak for themselves. What people do doubt is whether or not his numbers are good enough to bat in the leadoff spot.

chone figgins

A leadoff batter should be able to do four things:

1. get on base
2. steal bases
3. see pitches
4. score runs

With that said just because a player can perform these four facets of the game does not mean he should automatically bat at the leadoff spot, see Hanley Ramirez. A player like Ramirez who can hit for power will waste his talent at the leadoff spot. Jimmy Rollins is better than average when it comes to stealing bases and scoring runs but lags behind most leadoff hitters in terms of getting on base and pitches per plate appearance.

While the Phills will most likely not land Chone Figgins this off-season it is nice to wonder what our lineup would look like this upcoming season if we did. Honestly, you could make an argument that every position player could be an all-star with the exception of Carlos Ruiz. People put too much emphasis on a player’s numbers when you should be looking at the makeup of a team. In terms of the composition of the lineup I would rather have Rollins over Figgins in every spot in the batting order other than the leadoff spot.

And looking at the four characteristics that every leadoff batter should have will explain why. Figgins gets on base more, sees more pitches per plate appearance, and steals more bases than Rollins. Not to take anything away from Rollins but runs scored is determined by the batters that hit behind you. Heck, it was only two seasons ago that Prince Fielder reached base 7 times in one game against the Florida Marlins and scored no runs. In fact in 3 singles, 3 walks and 1 double he only managed to reach third base once.

Get on Base
The most important feature of a leadoff hitter is the ability to get on base. Over the past three seasons Figgins has averaged an on base percentage 57 points higher than Rollins. What this correlates to is more stolen bases and more runs scored.

2007

2008

2009

Rollins

.344

.349

.296

Figgins

.393

.367

.395

Stealing Bases
Over the past five seasons Chone Figgins has average 46 stolen bases per year while Rollins has averaged roughly 39.

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

Rollins

41

36

41

47

31

Figgins

62

52

41

34

42

What makes me most interested in picking up Figgins this off-season is how much his base stealing abilities will improve under Davey Lopes. In his three years as the first base coach the Phillies have lead the major league’s in stolen base percentage with 88% in 2007, 84% in 2008 and 81% in 2009. The 88% was the best in MLB history. And this past season the Phillies had 4 players in the 20-steal club; Rollins, Victorino, Werth, and Utley.

See Pitches
Chone Figgins finished fourth in the American League seeing 4.22 pitches per plate appearance this past season. He saw 4.07 P/PA in 2008 and 4.02 P/PA in 2007. Joining the Phillies lineup would prove disastrous to opposing pitchers as the Phillies had 4 players finish in the top 16 in the National League this past season. With the addition of Figgins the Phillies would surely have 5.

Phillies P/PA 2009
4.50 Jayson Werth (1)
4.12 Chase Utley (12)
4.08 Ryan Howard (15)
4.08 Raul Ibanez (16)

Score Runs
This past season, the Phillies were 61-19 (.763) when Rollins scored a run and 28-47 (.373) when he did not. For his career the Phillies are 482-221 (.686) when Rollins scores a run and 268-435 (.381) when he does not. In other words if our leadoff man gets on base and scores a run, we are going to win the game 70% of the time.

To put it into perspective, Rollins and Figgins score a run roughly every 2.15 times they reach base. Figgins reached 284 times this past season while Rollins reached 212 times. Those 72 additional times on base would mean an additional 33 runs being scored by our leadoff man.

We all know that Rollins is the team leader. We all know that he is not the prototypical leadoff man. So why not get the best of both worlds and pick up Figgins, bat Rollins in the 2 holes and see just how much the Phillies improve. And Ruben, I will pick up a Figgins jersey if it helps pay his $10 million contract.

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