On Sunday, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News wrote, “Cashman is poised to spend what it takes on a significant upgrade in left field (read that: Chone Figgins).”
I don’t want to “read that.” In the words of Casey Stengel, let’s make out that’s a misprint. Right now, the common assumption in the media seems to be that when it comes to Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees will retain one, but not both, necessitating the addition of another player. We can weigh the pros and cons of retaining one or the other after the playoffs — it’s not a slam-dunk decision either way — but either way, the Yankees will be looking for offensive consistency and a defensive upgrade in left field.
Figgins is not the way to go. The problem is, despite whatever reputation Figgins has, he’s not there: Figgins has no power, his stolen base percentages are edging downwards, is severely diminished when not batting left-handed (.266/.340/.351 career versus lefthanders), and as far as defense goes, has played only 36 games in left field in his career, just one of them coming in the last three years, so you really don’t know what you’ll get. With the exception of two seasons in his eight-season career, 2007 (in which he played only 115 games) and 2009, he hasn’t been a great on-base guy either — and there’s not guarantee he’ll ever draw 100 walks again. He’s also 31 years old, which means the Yankees will be paying for the rump end of his career, and he hasn’t been durable in recent seasons. Finally, to this point in his career he is a .175 hitter in 30 postseason games. Mr. October this ain’t.
This year, the average Major League left fielder hit .270/.341/440. Last year they hit .269/.344/.442. Two years ago, the rates were .277/.347/.453. This is the line the Yankees are shooting to be over when they cast the position. Figgins is a career .291/.363/.388 hitter. In two of the last four seasons, he was well below that, hitting .267/.336/.376 in 2006 and .276/.367/.318 in 2008. Imagine a best-case scenario in which the Yankees get everything that Johnny Damon gave them this year except for 20 home runs. The stolen bases wouldn’t make up for the loss of power, and that’s without the risk that Figgins has another off-year and turns in a .260/.340/.360 season somewhere along the line.
In 1982, the Yankees signed free agent outfielder Dave Collins, another speedster, then realized that he was far below their offensive requirements. It cost them Fred McGriff to get rid of him. Signing Figgins has the potential to repeat that scenario, with the Yankees once again casting a singles hitter at a power-hitter’s position, then immediately regretting it.
RIKKI, DON’T USE THAT NUMBER
As noted here before the series, in Game 2, Joe Girardi put Freddy Guzman into the game in the ninth inning to run for Hideki Matsui, then subsequently was forced to let him bat, a problem given that Guzman is the closest thing to an instant out among the non-pitchers on either team. It was the only discordant note in a game in which Girardi pressed all the right buttons — he backed himself into a corner on a move that didn’t have much of a chance of working out, given that Matsui had singled with two outs. If a home run wasn’t to be hit (in which case the pinch-runner was moot) it was going to take at least two events to score either player Matsui or Guzman, in the former case single and a double or vice-versa, in the case of Guzman a stolen base plus another hit. Perhaps Guzman might have scored from first on just the right ball hit into the gap, but betting on that is gambling Matsui’s next at-bat on a very specific outcome.
It’s one thing to use Brett Gardner in these situations given that Gardner has some ability to hit, but you get into a whole other level of risk when you put Guzman into the game. Before the series, I argued that Eric Hinske would have had more utility to the Yankees. That can be argued given the prevalence of left-handers in Mike Scioscia’s end game — Shelley Duncan would have been a wiser pick than either Hinske or Guzman. Either way, Guzman has to be a tool of very last resort.