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 .
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:
CHONE: 4.29 FIP
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.