Angels look to Figgins to get them going

Angels look to Figgins to get them going

ANAHEIM -- Chone Figgins is more than just the Angels' leadoff hitter. He's their catalyst, their spark plug, the engine that makes their offense go.

But Figgins will be the first to say he was none of those things in the American League Division Series against the Red Sox this year, even though his team swept the series in three games.

Figgins went 0-for-12 in the series and drew just one walk, for a .077 on-base percentage, while also striking out six times.

It was a far cry from the regular season, during which the third baseman drew an AL-best 101 walks en route to an impressive .395 on-base percentage that enabled him to finish second in the AL with 114 runs scored.

But those superb regular-season numbers are the reason why Figgins isn't worried about his three-game slump in the ALDS and is ready to resume his steady play when the Angels face the Yankees in the AL Championship Series, beginning on Friday at 4:57 p.m. PT on FOX.

"I was actually on rhythm," Figgins said of his performance in the Division Series. "I was fine. I went through the whole series with good at-bats, but they just made tough pitches on me. It's part of it, and so I was able to keep my composure and didn't let it get me down."

It was simply a case of the numbers not telling the whole story, especially in such a small sample size of just three games.

Figgins actually hit some balls hard, including a potential inside-the-park home run in Game 1 that was snared by a diving Jacoby Ellsbury in center field. Figgins also scored the tying run in the ninth inning of the Angels' dramatic comeback victory in Game 3 after drawing a two-out walk against closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Those are just a few more reasons why Figgins' teammates aren't worried about him heading into the ALCS, either.

"He's our igniter," catcher Jeff Mathis said. "He gets us started. Nobody's worried about what he did last series, and we're not worried about what he's going to do this series. He'll be fine."

Figgins was more than just fine at the plate this season for the Angels, as he -- along with Bobby Abreu -- set the tone and the table for the rest of the lineup.

Figgins was a master at working counts, as evidenced by the fact that he led the Majors by seeing 3,072 pitches -- or 4.21 pitches per plate appearance.

It not only allowed Figgins to get better pitches to hit and draw more walks, but it also wore down opposing pitchers while letting the rest of the lineup get a good look at the pitchers' arsenal.

Most Pitches seen in American League in 2009
Player Pitches PA Pitches/PA
Chone Figgins 3,072 729 4.21
Brian Roberts 2,901 717 4.05
Dustin Pedroia 2,823 714 3.95
Curtis Granderson 2,812 710 3.96
Bobby Abreu 2,800 667 4.20

That ability to go into deep counts was certainly not lost on Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who recognizes how crucial that trait is -- especially for a leadoff hitter.

"Figgy, for the whole season, has seen a lot of pitches," Scioscia said. "He's comfortable getting deeper in counts. This is what Figgy did a couple years ago [a .432 on-base percentage in 115 games in 2007]. He has the kind of potential to do this."

But having the potential to see so many pitches and having success with it are two different things. The one disadvantage to seeing so many pitches is that it often leads to two-strike counts and the dreaded strikeout.

Figgins, though, had the opportunity to learn from perhaps the game's best two-strike hitter in Abreu, who, like Figgins, finished in the top five in the AL in both pitches seen and walks.

"I've become more patient," Figgins explained. "I don't panic. I've learned to be comfortable hitting with two strikes. These are all things that come with experience, with knowing yourself.

"Early in the season, I was hitting balls hard but not having a lot of success. I kept telling myself, 'Don't panic. Stick with your approach.' It's hard to be a .400 on-base guy leading off, because nobody wants you to get on. They put a lot of focus into making quality pitches. So you have to work at it, fight off good pitches. Guys like Bobby, Mark Teixeira, Chase Utley -- they're great at it."

So while Figgins worked hard to be great at the plate this year, it's only a fraction of what he brought to the team, as he also led the Angels in steals and played Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base.

Figgins' defense was on display in Game 1 of the Division Series with two spectacular plays with runners on base, including a play where he fielded a ground ball by Kevin Youkilis and sprinted to third base to beat Dustin Pedroia there, despite the fact Pedroia was running on a 3-2 count.

It was just a microcosm of what he did all year for the Angels as arguably the most athletic third baseman in the Majors.

"Chone's a Gold Glove third baseman," said Torii Hunter, an eight-time Gold Glove outfielder. "When you talk about a guy who loves the game and plays every day with everything he's got, that's Chone. He's been our energy guy all year, getting us going. He never wears down, never wants to come out of a game. He's a player, man. Chone's a player."

That respect not only comes from his teammates, but across baseball, as he was named an All-Star for the first time this season. One of his biggest admirers comes from just up Interstate 5. Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre marvels at what Figgins brings to the Angels.

"He makes his team go," said Pierre, who played in the Rockies' farm system with Figgins. "He plays both sides of the ball. He's playing Gold Glove third base, and he has a .400 on-base percentage. He's doing it all."

Figgins knows he has to bring all of those tools into the ALCS if the Angels want to beat the Yankees and advance to the World Series for the first time since 2002, when he was just a rookie.

"I have to play well on both sides with offense and defense, because in the playoffs, you're not expected to go 5-for-5," Figgins said. "You have to contribute in other ways, such as getting a big walk or making a great defensive play. They're a great ballclub, but it's the playoffs, so you never know what's going to happen."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.