A small but loud minority of Met fans seems to have taken to Nelson Figueroa as if he were pitchingâ€™s equivalent of Orlando â€œGritty Mcâ€ Hudson.
One visits Met-related sites and blogs and finds fans and commenters defending Figgyâ€™s honor and demanding that he receive the respect he â€œdeserves.â€
A respected colleague blog of ours had an article the other day which stated these themes, and in defending the piece the writer went so far as to insist that Figgy â€œbadly out-pitched Pelfrey and Perezâ€ last year. Comically ridiculous of course, and the very respectful author politely replied to the legion of folks who shot down this very silly assertion. Ollie was hurt from day one, and Pelf, while disappointing, was most certainly not out-pitched by the paragon of mediocrity that is Nelson Figueroa.
Our friend Brian Costa at the Ledger made the unforgivable mistake of misstating Figueroaâ€™s stats in his 4 inning stint the other day. The first commenter rudely demanded that Brian â€œGet your story right and give Figgy the respect he deserves.â€ The always accessible Costa did fix the numbers. Of course, this 4 inning stint was in first week of March. And it was the LAST four innings, after starters were taken out or were about to be removed. Yes, this performance early in the spring against mostly minor leaguers surely is a sign of the next Bob Gibson.
Nelson Figueroa is, by all accounts, a fine man. Seemingly a family man with lots of close relatives and friends. A hard-worker and a student of the game who has played all over the globe and whose dream apparently has been to be a Met. In 2009 he did indeed have a few good outings.
But a close look shows that one of the best of his few good games was the last day of the season, against a rotten Astro team with one foot on the golf course. Another of his good outings was a Sunday game in Chicago when the Cubs were swinging away and clearly mailing it in. His next start against the Cubs allowed 7 H, 2 BB, and 4 ER in 6 IP. Yes, he had one good game against the Braves, which followed a horrible one against them. And his one start against the Phils allowed 9 H and 5 BB in 5.1 IP. He threw 12.1 innings of relief in 6 games, and allowed 18 hits and 5 walks; this was nicely and evenly spread among all six outings, the last five of which were all quite mediocre.
Nelson Figueroaâ€™s supporters are certainly not reminiscent of Richard Nixonâ€™s Silent Majority. No, they are most definitely more along the lines of the great jazz saxophonist and arranger Frank Fosterâ€™s Loud Minority.
Like Orlando Hudsonâ€™s tiny legions, Figgyâ€™s supporters clearly ignore his near-decade of failure, in six organizations, as a starter and a bullpen arm. Figgy has been consistently bad as a starter and a reliever in all of his spots, except for a decent 2003 for the Pirates, in only 35 IP. Hudsonâ€™s Met fan backers continue to ignore the fact that for two consecutive offseasons, he had literally almost zero interest. The Dodgers could not even wait for the season to conclude before ending his on-field presence; just as when released by the Mets last year, Figgy had precisely zero takers. Now, Hudson is clearly a large class above Figgy, having had many fine years as a starter, and being an all-star and a Gold Glove winner, but his reputation as a â€œgrittyâ€ â€œleaderâ€ and a â€œgreat clubhouse guyâ€ is about as real as the famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster.
Hence, the Figgy Flotilla of folks is even stranger; some of Hudsonâ€™s Met Fairy Dust has clearly been sprinkled on Figgyâ€™s weary right arm.
Nelson Figueroa, in this writerâ€™s opinion, would probably make an outstanding pitching coach someday. He has lasted many years, playing in many leagues and nations, despite marginal talent at best. He is a likeable, serious man who obviously knows his craft. Hereâ€™s hoping that if Bobby O or Randy Neimann do not eventually succeed Dan Warthen, that Figgy is given a serious look.
As for his role on the 2010 Mets, letâ€™s pray it is in Buffalo, and not Queens. In the comments section of TRDMB, this writer has challenged others to name one single pitcher with a record like Figgyâ€™s who has become a seriously valuable member of a pitching staff at his age, after all the years of failure. No one has named one. The only one who comes to mind is Darren Oliver. Oliver was a truly horrible starter for the Rangers for years. Granted, they play in a hittersâ€™ park and are among the least successful organizations in sports, but still, a look at Oliverâ€™s stats as a starter paints a grim picture. Oliver did, however, keep at it, and has enjoyed a somewhat remarkable second career as bullpen depth for some very good teams. Could this be a role for Figgy? Perhaps; and surely the only one he can realistically aspire to.
There certainly are teams in Japan, Mexico, and elsewhere which would be very happy to have a pitcher like Nelson Figueroa. He just does not have the talent to be a starter for an MLB team with serious aspirations. Fernando Nieve is much younger, throws harder, and is a product of an organization which has produced fine pitchers for decades. Should Niese not win the spot, it says here that it should and will be Nieveâ€™s.
If Figgy and his agent are patient and savvy enough, perhaps they should wait for the next Bad News Bears reunion. This way, Figgy could stay in the US and play for a big market team, which for decades has had consistent fan support. And he would slot in perfectly as their number two starter, right between Amanda Wurlitzer and Rudy Stein.