Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jeff Bagwell: 1993 to 1994

This whole Hall of Fame/Jeff Bagwell stuff has me all riled up. I'm sure that the writers who actually give enough of a crap to check out Bagwell's Baseball-Reference page looked at his jump from 1993 to 1994 as enough "proof" to suspect something was going on with Bagwell's body. Let's examine, shall we?

In 142 games (609 PAs) in 1993, Bagwell posted the following:
.320/.388/.516, with 20 homers, (61 XBH), 73K:62BB

In 1994, Bagwell played 110 games (strike-shortened season), with 479 PAs, posting:
.368/.451/.750, 39 homers (73 XBH), 65K:65BB

That's a significant jump - 19 more home runs in 130 fewer PAS. If we use, you know, a calculator, we know that Bagwell hit homers in 1993 at a rate of one every 30.45 plate appearances. In 1994, it was one every 12.28 plate appearances. What changed?

In 1993, Bagwell hit .330/.409/.509 in the Astrodome and .310/.365/.522 on the road, with a difference of only seven plate appearances between the two splits. Ten of his homers were at home, ten were on the road. Seven of those homers came in May, when he busted out for a .412/.467/.676 slash line, with 13K:14BB. Three of those homers came in one series against the Reds (May 6-8) where they left the Astrodome with a 12-17 record. All three came against the Reds' relievers.

Still, Bagwell played his last game of the season on September 12, 1993 when a Ben Rivera pitch ended up breaking his hand, causing Bagwell to miss the final 20 games of the season. If you figure that Bagwell missed about 86 plate appearances, it translates into approximately three more HRs. It's not a lot, but going from 23 to 39 homers is a little different than 20 to 39.

Bagwell was also either hitting in front of Eric Anthony or Ken Caminiti in 1993. Anthony hit 4th in 86 games in 1993, and posted a .272/.346/.453 line in the cleanup spot. Caminiti - when hitting 4th - hit .237/.309/.289. Anthony was good, Caminiti was not.

In 1994, Bagwell killed lefties (he killed everybody, in general), hitting .457/.544/1.095, with 18 of his 39 homers coming in 125 PAs vs. LHP (as opposed to a .318/.408/.592 line, with 10 homers in 213 PAs. So that's a homer every 6.9 PAs against a lefty in 1994, and one every 21.3 PAs in 1993.

But here's something else: From Opening Day to June 13, Bagwell hit 4th in the lineup, behind Craig Biggio, and he posted a .327/.406/.636 line with 17 homers, one every 12.9 PAs. Impressive, but not legendary. However, starting with the June 14, 1994 game, Terry Collins moved Bagwell back to the #3 spot, When Bagwell hit 3rd, he hit .417/.505/.889, with 19 doubles, 22 homers, 28K:32BB (11 intentional), with a .398 BABIP. That's one HR every 9.9 PAs.

On July 5, Biggio took over the leadoff spot, where Bagwell - now two spots behind Biggio, one behind Steve Finley, and in front of Ken Caminiti - hit .407/.507/.850 with a homer every 10.9 PAs, and an extra-base hit every 5.92 PAs.

In 1994, Craig Biggio also, after 5 1/2 good seasons, hit .300 for the first time - hitting .318/.411/.483, and posting his first .800+ OPS season. As the lead-off hitter, Biggio hit .347/.446/.533 in 1994.

From Opening Day - July 2, 1994, the Astros were 44-36 (.550), and hit 265/.333/.427. After Biggio was moved to the lead-off spot and the order got all shifted around, the Astros as a team hit .305/.378/.485, and went 22-13 (.629) until the strike happened.

So it's my opinion that Bagwell - after almost 2,000 plate appearances - was putting together a great year in 1994 until the lineup was shifted to maximize the lineup, and then it became a monster year. Ken Caminiti is a key player in this, as he hit .283/.352/.495 in 1994, becoming an All-Star for the first time, and providing protection for Bagwell.

Of course you're thinking, "But Caminiti admitted using steroids!" And you're right. However, he said he didn't start using until 1996, when he was in San Diego, to recover from a shoulder injury. If you think Bagwell juiced because he was buddies with Caminiti, Bagwell's MVP season pre-dates Caminiti's introduction to the magical world of injectible super-hero strength by two seasons, and Caminiti wasn't in Houston when he says he started juicing. And if you don't believe Caminiti, then there's no logic or rhyme/reason to persuade you.

Does this absolve Jeff Bagwell? I'm sure it won't mean a single solitary to anyone who doesn't want to look much more closely at the Hall of Fame than the internal "Do I think this guy is a Hall of Famer?" question. But it matters to me.