Why Nelson Figueroa is good

The title is the hypothesis, and I’ll take this portion to try and prove it. For those unfamiliar with Nelson Figueroa’s story, it’s a good one. Figueroa attended Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, which normally churns out basketball players such as Stephon Marbury and Sebastian Telfair. A great student, Figueroa took an interesting path to reach the major leagues:

Figueroa’s journey begins back in 1992 when the Brooklyn native spurned offers from Division One schools and joined Pete Varney’s baseball squad. While at Brandeis, Figueroa took courses in Engineering and American Studies while hanging out at the radio station at times from 2-4 am, playing unedited NWA records. Figueroa finished his major in 1998 but did not receive his diploma until [2008].

He was taken by the Mets in the 30th round of the 1995 draft and was subsequently dealt in consecutive deals for Bernard Gilkey and Curt Schilling, winding up with the Phillies. However, after journeying around in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee thereafter, he found himself playing in Mexico and Taiwan in 2007. Fortunately, Figueroa seems to have the mindset to fit in anywhere:

“The key to survival is assimilating in any environment,” he said. “I’ve always been able to do that. Being bilingual helps. I get a lot of people asking me, ‘What are you? Are you Puerto Rican, half-black, half this, half that?’ I always answer, ‘I’m educated.’ “

Pretty smart guy, huh? Anyway, back to proving his worth. Figueroa would get a chance to fill in as a spot starter for the Mets in 2008, pitching well. Last year, he was afforded ten starts and sixteen appearances for a total of 70.1 innings pitched. Here were his numbers:

4.09 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 4.50 xFIP, 4.88 tERA, 4.76 tRA*, 0.6 WAR

(For the difference between tRA and tRA*, go here. I’d also be interested to know why Statcorner’s tRA is slightly different from Fangraphs’). All in all, it was a good year for Figueroa, who was unfortunately stuck in Triple-A Buffalo for a large chunk of it. He dominated the minor leagues with a 2.77 FIP and 134 tRA+. Unsurprisingly, the baseball forecasters have predicted that Figueroa should continue his current trend of success:

Marcel: 4.47 FIP
Bill James: 4.42 FIP
Fangraphs Fans: 4.06 FIP (just to clarify, there’s only five of them, and they tend to be overly optimistic thus far)

Again, not too shabby. But just how does Figueroa get it done? By some really nasty movement (nasty in this sense). If you can withstand the thirty-second advertisement at the beginning of the clip, just take a look at how he mowed down the Astros with some serious breaking pitches this past October. Fangraphs says that Nelson threw a fastball just over 56% of the time, relying heavily on his slider, curveball, and changeup. Fangraphs also has Figueroa throwing an unknown pitch 10.8% of the time, most likely due to scorer confusion thanks to his wicked movement.

What can we expect from Figueroa in 2010? Well, considering that four out of the Mets five current starting pitchers took a trip to the DL last year, we may get to see him start once again. Or, more likely, he’ll spot start here and there and split time between Triple-A and the bullpen. Hopefully, however, he gets a chance to pitch, because Nelson Figueroa is good.

Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at Patrick.Andriola@tufts.edu or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat
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13 years ago

No Triple A for Nelson Figueroa. Never again. What are the Mets’ plans for him? Well, he’s now pitching in the Dominican Republic Winter League for the Escogido Leones (Lions). He relieved in four games, 9.2 innings, 0.93 ERA. The Lions made the playoffs and lost the first two games. So yesterday (Jan. 20), he started, went 6.2 innings, allowed 1 run, and the Lions won the game. Are the Mets paying attention? I would think so: the Lions manager is Ken Oberkfell, former Mets coach and presently their manager in Buffalo. It’s not a coincidence that Figgy is pitching for Escogido. He’s continuing his superb pitching since mid-August when he took Santana’s spot in the rotation: In 8 starts his ERA was 3.38. Take away one bad start, and in 7 of the 8 games he had a 2.23 ERA. Averaged 6+ innings per start. He was 2-6, but in his 6 losses, the Mets scored a total of 11 runs. Figueroa was the only Mets pitcher to throw a complete game shut out at Citi Field. Had more September strikeouts than any Mets pitcher. By the way, if he had pitched just 3 more innings in Triple A in 2009 (he pitched 112), he would have led the International League in lowest ERA (2.25) and lowest WHIP (1.03). Nelson Figueroa is that good.

Mark Himmelstein
13 years ago

Nice job Pat.  Beat me to it, I was just thinking about doing a writeup like this, but you’ve summed it up pretty well here.  All this desperation for “upgrading” the rotation is kind of meaningless if they wind up signing a lesser pitcher to a guaranteed major league contract for a lot more money (I’m lookin’ at you John Garland).  Of course, signing a better pitcher and hoping Nelson clears waivers AGAIN would be nice, he’d be awesome insurance in Triple-A

Ron Davis
13 years ago

Now that they traded Stokes well maybe he will take on Stoke’s role in the pen a middle reliever long reliever because like Stokes he could spot start give you a long game in blow outs.

13 years ago

I’ve been asking for the past few months why Nelson Figueroa shouldn’t be there in the starting mix for the mets….Basically he was the best pitcher the Mets had in Sept what other Met pitcher threw a complete shut out lastyear?…..
Why don’t they give him chance instead of throwing away Millions of $$$$$ on unhealthy pitchers that are remaing to be signed to contracts….from what I’m reading and hearing that if the Mets don’t sign any more top of the line pitching that there is going to be alot of empty seats this year….

Jeff Cannon Sr
13 years ago

When he was with the Phils I always enjoyed watching him pitch, he is also a hell of a hitter and an even better base runner, for a pitcher anyway. I don’t understand how he couldn’t crack the Mets starting 5.  I think I could pitch for that team. {sorry couldn’t resist}

Kerri B
13 years ago

Huge fan of Figgy.  I went to school with him back in the late 90s and so I was happy when the Mets drafted him and just as stoked when he came back.  He’s a good guy and I do think he has what it takes to pitch at the Major League level.

Ron Davis
13 years ago

I like the so called underdog the Figgys and Castillo the ones where fans are not kind about other then you guys about Figgy. To me he is Rick Reed Part Deux.

13 years ago

Rick Reed pitched for the Mets from 1997-2001. His record with the Mets: 59-36. NL All Star in 1998 and 2001. Traded by the Mets to the Twins on July 30, 2001, a month before his 37th birthday. Good comparison.

Ron Davis
13 years ago

Some times win and loss records are misleading. Reed was better then his Win and Loss and same goes for Figgy and then there are pitchers who had better win and loss then they actually pitched. Like ex Mets Stokes was alot better then his record. And perfect example was Anthony Young. no CY Young but he lost 19 in row how many of those came when his team gave up during the season.  I feel Figgy deserves consideration for making the team. So guy said well he gets sent down alot . Well that maybe due to others making more money so his salary dictated that. I was impressed by Figgy command . He is not Santana but how many are?

Dan Novick
13 years ago

tRA is different on FanGraphs and StatCorner because they use different data sources for the batted ball stats. FanGraphs gets batted ball data from BIS, StatCorner gets data from mlb gameday (I believe)

Aaron B.
13 years ago

I think (not entirely sure though) the differences between fangraphs tRA and statcorner tRA is that fangraphs adjusts the whole tRA by park, whereas statcorner adjusts each component by park. Not entirely sure about that though…

Doug W
13 years ago

Great piece on Nelson. He is as smart and nice as any player in the majors. He is always competitive and deserves a chance. I think his intellect and lack of machismo probably account for his relegation to the back of the pack. It took failure of several other pitchers (L Hernandez comes to mind) before he even got a chance last year. His case is demonstrative of Manuel and Minayas mediocre assessment of players(Angel Pagan is another).