How Good Is Pedro Figueroa (Or, Is He Any Good At All)

Yesterday, after Bartolo Colon made the mistake of actually moving off the mound to do something other than go back to the dugout and pulled his fourth chin (the official diagnosis is an oblique injury, but the truth is more embarrassing), a 26 year-old lefty from the Dominican Republic came in to take over. He entered with runners in scoring position and a BB/9 ratio of 9.0, and things weren't looking good. What this fireballing lefty did was go three innings and allow just one runner (one he inherited from Colon) to score. He struck out two batters and did not issue a single walk. This lefty - hailing from Santo Domingo, DR - is Pedro Figueroa, and after years of injury issues, he's finally made it.

I remember, one of my recent complaints was that a spot on the 40-man roster was being taken up by Figueroa, who was nothing more than an injury-prone minor leaguer. Figueroa had been signed as an amateur free agent by Oakland in '03, and had been enjoying some reasonable success in the minors, but the kid - who was actually pitching well as a starter in the A's low-level affiliates as well as Midland - suffered injuries and part of 2010 and almost all of 2011. This year, he began the season with Sacramento, and after breezing through PCL lineups, he was called up to Oakland.

I have to say, I was intrigued by this rookie, and I figured that he'd better succeed now because 26 is getting pretty old for a minor leaguer who can't pitch in the majors. Anyway, he came and went 9 innings with 9 walks, 3 strikeouts and 2 earned runs allowed. The thing is, there were a handful of occasions where Figueroa left the game with runners on base and gave the ball to another, more accurate reliever to get outta the mess. It's a dangerous way to work, and Figueroa was eventually sent down to Sacramento, to work on (among other things) his command - weird, huh?

Well, Tyson Ross was sent down after a one-hitter and Figueroa was called up. Overall, he had been doing pretty well in Triple-A, with 19 K's in 18.1 innings pitched and just 5 walks. Combine that with a 1.96 ERA and some good scouting reports and it seemed Figueroa was ready for The Show (at least, this time he's ready). So, anyway, he came up yesterday on on that very same day dominated the Padres (which, I guess, isn't much a feat but be happy with what you can get).

The thing is, is Figueroa any good? 9 walks in 9 innings is nothing short of crazy, and not the good crazy. Funnily, in seven minor league seasons, Figueroa has a BB/9 ratio of 3.9 and a K/9 ratio of 8.1. I checked out three other players who I figured might have the same kinda stats as Figueroa, all former A's:

1) Henry Rodriguez: 341.2 IP, 6.5 BB/9, 11.6 K/9

2) Gio Gonzalez: 684.1 IP, 4.1 BB/9, 10.3 K/9

3) Fauntino De Los Santos: 304.0 IP, 3.3 BB/9, 11.5 K/9

- Figueroa: 405.1 IP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.1 K/9

Funnily enough, the three guys who popped into my head were all Hispanic pitchers who were former A's. Thing is, none of them really have similar lines to Figueroa. Gio comes closest, with a BB/9 difference of 0.2, yet his K/9 ratio is 2.2 points higher. Of course, if Figueroa has the kinda success that Gio is having, that would be great, but the chances are that won't happen. Figueroa is a starter who was turned into a reliever, so I figured De Los Santos would be a good comparison, but he had a way higher K/9 ratio and a lower BB/9 ratio, so that didn't work out.

I continued to look for a good comparison, but no one came up. Jonathan Sanchez? Nope. Brett Anderson? Uh-uh. Trevor Cahill? Hell no. Tim Hudson? No - actually, wait a sec...

In 312 minor league innings, Hudson had a BB/9 of 4.0 and a K/9 of 8.5. Far smaller sample size, but similar stats. Of course, when you go into other statistics - wins, losses, ERA, H/9 - big gaps come up, with Hudson usually having way better numbers. So, the search goes on...

Well, I went through a ton of players and I just couldn't seem to find a good match for Figueroa. Hudson probably came closest, and even with him it wasn't very close. So, if Figueroa is a unique player, how can we analysis him as opposed to other players like him?

What I figured was, if I can't find a player like Figueroa, than I have to find the same type of player as Figueroa: a big, power lefty. First, I checked out Gio again, but he had far more success in the MiLB than Figueroa. I checked out a ton of other guys, ranging from the well-known (C.C. Sabatha) to the nobodies (Aaron Laffey). OK, I found guys like Figueroa but when you actually looked at their numbers, not many similarities came up.

I had hit a wall here, so I decided to step back and just look at Figueroa for who he is. Here are a few of my observations:

  • I don't exactly know why Figueroa was moved from a starter to a reliever, but I'm guessing it was because of injury issues. I wouldn't start him now, but he might make a good spot starter/long reliever. What he did versus San Diego was something I think he could be successful aT.
  • He could also be a decent set-up man, but he would need to strikeout more batters and walk fewer hitters for that project to work. Something to work on, maybe?
  • There doesn't seem to be much else he can do in Triple-A apart from fine tuning his control and his pitches. He can pitch well against minor league hitting, now he has to make the transition to MLB batters
  • Ironically, while I was writing these observations, a possible comparison to Tyson Ross popped up in my head. More on that later...
  • He has potential, that's for sure. However, if he struggles to get guys out and keeps issuing free passes, he'll be out of the BIgs fast

Well, as I mentioned, I figured that I might as well compare him to Tyson Ross. Now, this comparison worked. Here are the links to both of their MiLB stat lines:



Pretty alike, huh? Of course, Ross has far fewer innings, but if you sample their numbers in regard to their IP, you come up with similar statistics. Basically, you can find similarities on wild pitches, hit batters, strikeouts, walks, ERA's, hits, homeruns and a handful of other numbers. So, is Figueroa like Ross? Well, they are two different types of players. First of all, Ross is a righty while Figueroa is a lefty. Second of all, the way they attack hitters is different. But fi you consider the fact that both their roles are reversible - Figueroa can be a spot starter, Ross can do some long relief - they both have injury issues - no further explanation needed - and they both have similar minor league stat ines, you come to see that they are quite similar players.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. Figueroa could be nothing like Ross. In fact, Figueroa could be an injury-prone nobody who can't pitch. Yet I see some promise in this guy, and hopefully it'll come to fruition.

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