Y2010M! Chone Figgins

(Y2010M! stands for Your 2010 Mariners! and is a series of posts aiming to touch on every player possibly important to the Mariners’ season.)

For the better part of a decade, the Angels have dominated the AL West.  They’ve endured major personnel changes, a stream of seemingly terrible contracts, and the confusion of changing the location in their name without changing the location of the team.  They owe this dominance to a lot of great players obtained by both those terrible contracts and a steadily excellent farm system, but equally important is the identity they’ve formed as a franchise.  The common description for the Angels is “annoying”.  They do whatever is necessary to win, which means they win a lot of games they seem to have no business winning.  They usually have a couple of stars and few weak points in the line up, good to excellent pitching, and an undeterrable focus on the small things: base-running, defense, manufacturing runs.  Led by one of the best managers in baseball in Mike Scioscia, they play baseball “the right way”, which means that no matter what adversity a new season brought, they still managed to come out on top.

No player came to exemplify Angel baseball more than Chone Figgins.  He was always on base, ran like crazy, played everywhere on the diamond; he was in the middle of every rally and big play.  Vlad Guerrero was the big bat Mariner fans feared, Figgins was the one he was hitting in.

This year, Figgins is a Mariner.

It’s easy to proclaim Seattle signing Figgins to a four year contract as a changing of the guard in the AL West.  Seattle is building a team along the Angels blueprint, and LA looks weaker than at any point since they started their run of dominance.  With any luck, the Mariners will win the division and the Angels will finally succumb to injuries and age.  We’ll see.  Until the Angels don’t win, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.  It’s possible Figgins loses a step and a tick of bat speed and plays in only 100 games like 2007 and 2008 and the Angels plug the hole and keep winning.

But putting aside the metaphorical symbolism, Figgins is a huge add for the Mariners.  My uncle, a more casual Mariner fan, asked me about him this weekend, and I told him he might be the biggest offensive addition for any team in the league this year.  The reason: Figgins is always on base.  He led the league in walks (101) and was among the leaders in on-base percentage (.395), which is typically space reserved for guys with a little more power.  The biggest key to scoring more runs?  Having people on base.  Once on the bases, he runs like crazy, with 42 stolen bases last year.  2009 was a definite career year, so a downturn should be expected, but I wouldn’t expect it to be significant.  He’ll bat second behind Ichiro, a decision that has drawn attention and some criticism this spring.  Many argue that the team would score more runs with Chone drawing a walk to get on first and then Ichiro advancing him with a hit, rather than Ichiro hitting his way on and Chone then walking.  The current configuration likely will cost a few runs from instances where Figgins would be on second and an Ichiro single would drive him in, but as Dave Cameron pointed out, Figgins being on first during one of Ichiro’s infield hits would cost Ichiro the hit a lot of time, because it would be easier to get the fielder’s choice on Figgins.  We’ll just say it’s a wash and leave Ichiro to what he does best.

Hopefully the two of them will run wild whatever order they’re in, and the guys behind them will drive them in with some regularity.  Whether that happens or not, a guy who is constantly on base will be a nice change from the free swinging, low on-base guys the Mariners have had in recent year.  It’s worked for the Angels, so maybe it will work for the Mariners.

Happy Opening Day!

-Matthew

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