Nelson Figueroa’s Major League Baseball career was long, but not exactly noteworthy. He spent nine seasons in MLB and by the time he was finished had amassed a career 92 ERA+ and 2.7 rWAR. Like I said, not exactly noteworthy, but Figueroa’s professional baseball career did not begin in 2000 and it did not end in 2011. His pro career actually spanned 19 seasons and 15 different leagues. At times he was great, others he was less so, but throughout all those various seasons and leagues he was consistent in what he brought to the mound.
The Brooklyn native began his career in 1995 with the Kingsport Mets of the Appalachian League. That first year in Kingsport he struck out 79 in 76.1 innings pitched. From the very onset, the right-hander utilized a standard fourseam/slider approach to pitching. Throughout the years he never truly weaned himself off of those being his main two pitches. His velocity steadily dipped and he went from being more of a power pitcher to a command pitcher, but the repertoire remained the same.
All the way up to the last pitch of his career Figueroa kept attacking hitters. He retired with a BB/9 of 2.7 which helps explain why he was able to keep his career going for as long as he did. Because he attacked the zone so often he actually gave up plenty of contact. His H/9 hovered around 9.0 for the majority of his playing days. However, he balanced out giving up hits by not offering up many free passes. Pounding away at the zone was Figueroa’s game, and he did so with his fourseam/slider combo until his arm could throw the baseball no longer.
The season that best exemplifies Figueroa’s success as a professional pitcher came in 2007. He started the year with Dorados de Chihuahua of Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. There wasn’t anything great about his time with the Dorados but his 3.87 ERA in 153.2 innings impressed enough that the Uni-President Lions of the Chinese Professional Baseball League brought him on board for their big playoff push. He started four games for the Uni-Lions, won all four, and in 30.0 innings pitched had a 3.00 ERA, 130 ERA+, and 0.7 tWAR. Where he really shined was in the playoffs. En route to a Taiwan Series title and a Taiwan Series Most Valuable Player award for himself, Figueroa won all three of his starts. He won the deciding game seven and ended the series with an ERA of 1.56 in 23.0 innings pitched.
Figueroa’s 2007 wasn’t done yet as he also put together an impressive winter ball run that season. He started off with Naranjeros de Hermosillo of Liga Mexicana del Pacífico. He only pitched 23 innings for Hermosillo and had an unimpressive 5.48 ERA. He ended up signing on with Águilas Cibaeñas of Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana for their playoffs. He was excellent, posting a 1.74 ERA and 215 ERA+ across 31 innings as he helped the Águilas win the LIDOM title and he was named finals MVP. In a twist, he did not play in Serie del Caribe for the Águilas, but for the LMP champions, Yaquis de Obregón. His excellent run continued with a 0.86 ERA in 11 innings, though his team didn’t win the title nor did he take home any personal hardware.
Figueroa bounced around many leagues for his entire career. The whole time he kept striking guys out. Never at an amazing clip, usually around 6.7 K/9, but with a consistency that left him holding the all-time record for most strikeouts in Minor League Baseball at 1,505. All total in his career he pitched in 3,125.1 innings, compiled 2,387 strikeouts, 47 complete games, a 3.65 ERA, and 6.9 K/9. Those are just the stats we know of too, there’s plenty of postseason statistics from MiLB that haven’t been included because they aren’t easy to find. The strikeout total may not seem impressive when compared to the all-time leaders in MLB, but for a pitcher who played all over the globe and spent a large chunk of his career out of the bullpen, it’s an impressive number indeed. Figueroa may not have succeeded in MLB, but he sure as heck succeeded in professional baseball.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Taiwan News