Five-tool player: Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame case
Craig Biggio seemed to to do it all on the field. But is that enough to get him into Cooperstown?
Hall of Fame cases: Luis Gonzalez | Moises Alou | Lee Smith | Fred McGriff | Don Mattingly | Jack Morris | Rafael Palmeiro | Sammy Sosa | Edgar Martinez | Jeff Kent | Alan Trammell | Larry Walker | Mark McGwire | Tom Glavine | Frank Thomas | Mike Piazza | Mike Mussina | Curt Schilling
We're mere days away from Jan. 8, when the BBWAA voting results will reveal who will join managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa in the 2014 Baseball Hall of Fame class.
In keeping with our previous posts on the 2014 candidates (see the above links), we'll now recap the cases for and against Craig Biggio. As a reminder, we're discussing the Hall of Fame merits and demerits of each player and not advocating one side or the other. After we state the pros and cons, it's up to you (and the voters, of course) to decide whether the player in question is worthy of a plaque.
Now, on to Mr. Biggio ...
The bare essentials
Biggio spent parts of 20 seasons in the majors, all of them with the Astros, and over that span he batted .281/.363/.433 with 3,060 hits; 291 home runs; 668 doubles; 414 stolen bases; 1,175 RBI and 1,844 runs scored. Along the way, Biggio tallied four Gold Gloves, seven All-Star appearances and five Silver Sluggers. As well, three times he finished in the top 10 of the NL MVP balloting, peaking at fourth in 1997. In 2013, his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, he was named on 68.2 percent of BBWAA ballots, modestly shy of the 75 percent required for election.
The case for induction
Few can match the breadth of Biggio's résumé of "counting" stats. For instance, the Seton Hall product -- 22nd overall pick, 1987 draft -- ranks in the top 100 all-time in plate appearances (10th), hits (21st), doubles (5th), walks (65th), runs scored (15th), total bases (33rd), extra-base hits (32nd), times on base (18th), times hit by pitch (1st, post-1900) and offensive WAR (46th).
Also bear in mind that Biggio was in his prime during the 1994-95 labor stoppage, which cost the Astros 65 regular-season games across those two seasons. Doubtless, that hurt Biggio's counting totals just a bit. For instance, in 1994 Biggio ended the season with 44 doubles in 115 team games. Would he have challenged Earl Webb's single-season record of 67 two-baggers if allowed to play those missing 47 games? Quite possibly.
As you can see, when it comes to compiling numbers, Biggio has an exceptionally strong dossier. While impressive counting totals can be somewhat misleading (i.e., "compilers" like Biggio or, say, Pete Rose can hang around well past their point of usefulness but still add to those eye-popping totals), there's no doubt that they carry much weight with BBWAA voters in the main. And when it comes to those kinds of totals, Biggio is a rarity.
There's also his defensive value to be considered. Biggio is the uncommon player to have spent significant time at three premium positions: catcher, second base and center field. Biggio of course came up as a catcher, but by 1992, his fifth season in the majors, he was a full-time second baseman. In total, Biggio spent more than 20,000 defensive innings at second base and catcher (the vast majority coming at the keystone). Not only are those vital defensive positions, but they're also positions that entail a great deal of attrition.
The rigors of catching are well established, and second base, because of double-play pivot duties, is heavy on injury risk. On that point, it's worth noting that Biggio was a part of 1,153 double plays as a second baseman -- 19th most all-time. So when we was building up all those counting stats, he had his defensive obligations working against him in a very real sense. Still and yet, 11 times Biggio logged 150 or more games in a season.
Really, Biggio did it all: hit, ran the bases, played defense at important positions and answered the bell whenever possible.
The case against induction
It's a reach, honestly. Considering that Biggio manned key positions for almost his entire career and considering the strength of some of his key offensive indicators, he should be an obvious first-ballot choice. Except he wasn't.
There's probably a handful of voters somewhat put off by Biggio's "merely" good rate stats -- 112 OPS+ for his career, for instance. Such a stance is a stretch, given Biggio's value in the field and on the bases and given the length of his decline phase, but it's probably playing a role on some level.
The other, far less defensible stance is to yoke Biggio, without a scintilla of verifiable evidence, to the PED users that in some ways typified the era. (Blogger Murray Chass is a particularly unfortunate practitioner of this ... obsession.) The thing about docking or outright marginalizing Hall of Fame candidates based on PED use is that there should be at least some evidentiary basis for doing so. The eyeball test doesn't pass muster. Failed test or public admission? That's fine, if PED use is a disqualifying factor for you and you've come up with justification to ignore the widespread amphetamine use of prior generations of ballplayers. But tarring a player because he had a certain teammate or played during a certain span of time is rank laziness.
Biggio may indeed make it this year (at this writing, the BBTF ballot gizmo has him on 82.2 percent of publicly disclosed ballots), but everything about him -- from actual value to the things that typically matter to voters -- bellows "first-ballot Hall of Famer."
Biggio will never be that, though.
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