We’ve all heard his name mentioned at the forefront of the fifth starter’s job this year for the Astros, but just what does Nelson Figueroa bring to the table. We as Astros fans are immediately reminded of his performance in the starting rotation last year and see no reason why he couldn’t pick up where he left off. The big question is can Nelson Figueroa duplicate last year’s second half success in the starting rotation over a full season?
For him to pick up where he left off seems like a tall order for a 36 year old pitcher who has never pitched more than 100 innings at the major league level. He has only thrown over 150 innings twice in his career split between the majors and minors, so it is hard to tell if his body could handle the stress of a full season. However on the other side of this coin Figueroa has stated that he has never had the certainty of being able to settle into a major league role and has been juggled between the majors and the minors, and also the rotation and bullpen, for the majority of his career and could excel with a little certainty on where he fits into a particular organization. We will take a look at his repertoire, past stats, and career splits to try and determine how good Nelson can be.
According to Fangraph’s, Figueroa throws a fastball that is consistently clocked at 88 mph with good movement. Add to that an 81 mph slider, a 74 mph curveball, and an 83 mph changeup, and you can see that Figueroa is a 4-pitch pitcher who has the capability of mixing things up on the mound and keeping hitters off balance. He is a pitcher who works off of his fastball, and then relies on his slider as his top secondary offering, but uses his other two off-speed pitches on a regular basis as well. For a pitcher who does not possess overpowering stuff he has averaged a K/9 ratio of 6.13 which is respectable for a fifth starter type. The biggest issue that Figueroa has had in the past is control, as he has posted a BB/9 ratio of 3.58 at the major league level. This is not something ideal for a finesse pitcher and also seems to cause him to work up a high pitch count early in the ballgame than what would be desired.
When looking at Figueroa’s career stat line one interesting statistic that pops out is his lefty versus righty splits. In 143 total innings versus left handed hitting Nelson has allowed 163 hits, 26 home runs, 79 walks, and 91 strikeouts. In 222 total innings versus right handed hitting he has allowed 205 hits, 25 home runs, 66 walks, to go along with 161 strikeouts. This shows that Nelson has fared far better against right handed hitters than he has against left handed hitters. The most alarming of these statistics is the fact that he walked 13 more batters when facing lefties in 79 fewer innings. Nelson has also shown in the past to be more effective his first time through a lineup than his second and third time through the order. This could explain the reason why he tends to work up a higher pitch count earlier in the ballgame than what is desired.
Nelson has had a decent but not outstanding spring thus far, and has not done anything to eliminate himself from the final spot in the rotation. However, due to his lefty versus righty career splits, and his ability to struggle the second and third times through a batting order, Nelson seems like his talents may be best utilized as a middle reliever and swing-man in the rotation instead of as an everyday starter. This role is still very important, and would be similar to the role that Brian Moehler has played the past few years for the Astros. With Nelson in this role the Astros would have a decent insurance policy to safeguard against injuries in the rotation. While it was definitely a worthwhile move to re-sign Figueroa for this season as he brings quality depth to the rotation, the Astros may be best served by giving the rotation spot to one of the younger candidates with higher upside and having Figueroa as an insurance policy.