A Chone Figgins Man Crush From WhatIfSports.com image

Fantasy Focus: Ode to the Utility Man

The Figgins' Effect
By Joel Beall, WhatIfSports.com
May 4, 2010
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I'm in love with a man whom I've never met. My knowledge of his life is minimal, and he doesn't even know I exist. Yet he's affected my life in ways few have, and I preach his praises to any congregation that will listen.

I am, of course, referring to Chone Figgins.

For the better part of five years, Mr. Figgins has been the cornerstone of my fantasy baseball dynasty (and I do mean dynasty, as "Beall's Bleacher Bums" have taken home the league crown in four straight seasons). Unfortunately, a glance at the back of his baseball card wouldn't concur with this statement. Not that he's had a bad career; quite the contrary. But lifetime averages of .291 BA, .365 OBP, 5 HR, 59 RBI, 100 R and 48 SB would hardly qualify consideration of "fantasy foundation" status. So when others question the validity of my affection for Figgins (which is often), I counter with this simple argument: position flexibility. To elaborate, Chone Figgins has the versatility to be penciled into six positions on the diamond.

Chone Figgins

For fantasy intentions, that declaration is not technically accurate, as most leagues have three umbrella "OF" slots rather than individual (LF, CF, RF) positions. Yet, keeping this constraint in mind, the ability to maneuver a player into 2nd, 3rd, SS, OF or Utility is a wildly underrated asset to possess in fantasy baseball. Anyone who has participated in a fantasy league understands the disgust and dismay of a vacant 2nd baseman spot while three outfielders waste away on the bench. But with the help of my man Figgins, this dilemma is alleviated.

Think I'm making much ado about nothing? Reconsider this premise amigo, for one of the hidden secrets to fantasy success is not so much dependent on how your players perform; rather, it's how often they perform. Referring back to the scenario above, starting a less-than-filled lineup in fantasy is a recipe for disaster. As I researched through past final standings in rotisserie leagues, there was strong correlation between the top teams and high player at-bat/game totals. To summarize, the more at-bats your team gets, the better chance you have of accumulating statistics. A simply theory in principle, yet one that somehow alludes a majority of fantasy users.

Which brings us back to Figgins. An uber-utility man, Figgins was a late-season call-up for Angels' 2002 World Series run, mostly serving as pinch-runner. In '03 he opened his career roving center, transitioned to 3rd in '04, split time in between 2nd, 3rd, and OF in '05, returned to center in '06, before finally finding a (somewhat) permanent home at 3rd from '07 to '09. In today's day and age of ultimate ego in professional sports, few athletes have the humility to disregard their personal interests for the betterment of the team. You may think position rotation is inconsequential, but for many in the sport, baseball is all about routine, and the uncertainty of where one will be placed can add unnecessary anxiety. The fact that Figgins did this for years was relatively lost upon the baseball world, save for Angel fans and Figgins fantasy owners.

Figgins hasn't been the only one to man multiple positions. Last season, Ben Zobrist burst onto the AL East scene by compiling a .297 BA, .405 OBP, 27 HR, 91 RBI, 90 R line while playing seven positions for Tampa Bay. Mark DeRosa was featured at five different areas of the field while splitting time with Cleveland and St. Louis in '09. The newest addition to this list is Martin Prado, who is hitting .354 with 16 Runs in 2010 and has the capability to play 1st, 2nd, or 3rd.

Staying true to my Figgins philosophy, I was able to select Zobrist in my league's draft this season. Tragically, Figgins himself was robbed from my grasps a selection too soon, and the Bleacher Bums will be without his services for the first time since I hit puberty. So to mark this end of an era, I bid this ode to you Chone. Farewell my friend. Farewell.

Jay Bruce

Start 'em: Jay Bruce, Reds. Although the Reds' right-fielder struggled to the start the season (6 for 41 at the plate), Bruce has been on a tear since, hitting .348 with 4 HRs and 14 Runs since April 18.

Sit 'em: Joe Mauer, Twins. The reigning AL MVP might miss a few weeks rather than a few games while nursing a bruised left heel. Mauer was batting .345 with a .406 OBP and 13 RBI before being relegated to the bench. In a related note, we hear all the time about the "Madden cover curse" but how about the misfortune that has befallen those who have graced the front of "MLB: The Show?" In '07, David Wright appears as the pitchman, only for the Mets to suffer a late-season collapse of epic proportions, losing 12 of their last 17. Dustin Pedroia's batting average is 30 points lower to his previous season after his image is plastered in the front of the '09 edition. And now Mauer's foot injury. In the words of my friend John, "Not saying, just saying."

Fantasy Flashback: This segment will spotlight a player who would've been a fantasy force had rotisserie leagues existed in that particular period. Today we salute 1894 Billy Hamilton. Billy had quite the campaign for the Philadelphia Phillies, hitting .404 with an absurd .523 OBP, while stealing 98 bases and scoring 192 times. Granted, the stolen base and run totals are slightly diminished when you learn Hamilton averaged nearly 7 at-bats a game, as well competing in a time when the sport was segregated. However, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, Hamilton is one of 5 men in baseball history to hit a leadoff AND walk-off home run in the same game. So he's got that going for him.

Waiver Wire Watch: Fausto Carmona, Indians. After two seasons riddled with injuries and control issues, Carmona appears to have regained his 2007 form (in which he won 19 games). Carmona is 3-1 with a 4.05 ERA (which can be contributed to a 6 IP/6 ER performance against MIN) in 2010, and is owned by only 33-percent of those in fantasy leagues. While he's not a big K producer, Carmona will eat up plenty of innings while posting a moderately low ERA.

Rookie Review: Justin Smoak, Rangers. Lost in the Jason Heyward-mania has been the call-up of Smoak, a unanimous top-10 prospect heading into the 2010 season. Appearing at three levels in '09, Smoak combined to hit .290 with a .410 OBP. A switch-hitter, Smoak should benefit from playing in hitter-friendly Arlington, and despite a slow start, is 5 for his last 19 with 2 HRs.

Jonathan Broxton

This week in Jonathon Broxton: Broxton's line so far in the 2010 campaign: 1-0, 1 SV, 14 Ks with a 0.00 ERA. You may inquire why Broxton merits his own section. My rebuttal: 1) The man fires a 100mph fastball 2) He rocks the muttonchops 3) Dude's playing baseball despite pushing three bills and 4) Swaggers out from the bullpen to Black Sabbath. Need I say more?

Trade Talk: Today's trade discussion centers on dealing floundering early-round selections. Patience is a virtue, and fantasy baseball sure puts this truth to the test. The natural reaction to an underperforming player is to ship his rotten carcass from your team as soon as possible. But don't let a slow start sour your affection. More importantly, don't get suckered into giving away a 2nd or 3rd rounder for 10 cents on the dollar. There'll always be that guy in your league offering you someone like Jose Lopez for your slumping 1st-round selection. Remember that it's a 6-month season and keep the faith in your draft picks. (That being said, anyone who wants to take David Ortiz off my hands is more than welcome. Apparently "Big Papi" is Spanish for "under the Mendoza line.")

Big League Chew Player of the Week goes to: David Freese, Cardinals. Since April 28, Freese is 13-for-23 (.565) at the plate, with 3 HRs and 14 RBI. Hard to debate that anyone is "hotter" in baseball than "Freese" right now. Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.

Spit Your Tobacco at: Javier Vasquez, Yankees. After 5 starts, Vasquez has logged 23 innings and racked up a 9.78 ERA. On the bright side, Vasquez still isn't as despised as Carl Pavano. Yet.

That's it for this week. Enjoy St. Louis at Philly, the Yanks invading Fenway, and the Brewers and Dodgers battling for National League inferiority. Class dismissed.

Let us know what you think of Whatifsports.com's Fantasy Focus. Shoot us an email at BtB@whatifsports.com.

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