Friday, December 21, 2012

Was Biggio Just a Compiler

The early returns on Biggio's Hall of Fame candidacy are promising, with many touting Biggio as the "clean" choice among all the steroid muck. However, the one knock that keeps coming up against Biggio is that he was never a great player, but was merely a compiler of stats, hanging on past his prime to get to 3,000 hits and his ticket to Cooperstown. Now, my first inclination is to call those people idiots and be done with it. However, maybe a better approach would be to actually look at the evidence, to see if it has any merit.

In the past ten years, there have been three middle infielders elected to the Hall of Fame: Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin. All of them played several years less than Biggio, and none of them got to 3,000 hits. In fact, Biggio bests them in all of the major counting stats for his career. But how does Biggio's prime compare with these players? Is the knock on Biggio, that he was never as great as these players, but just played long enough to accumulate more counting stats, accurate?

Looking at these four players, it is remarkable how similar they are. Their career bWAR ranges from 62.1 (Biggio) to 67.1 (Larkin). (On Fangraphs, the range is wider, with Sandberg trailing with 62.6 and Biggio and Larkin leading with 70.5). They also had a easily definable decade long stretch where they consistently performed at an All Star level and then a fairly steep decline in later years. Comparing these peaks can determine whether Biggio was ever as dominate as his other Hall of Fame contemporaries, or merely accumulated stats by playing longer.

Sandberg's peak begins earlier than the others, and extends from 1983 to 1993. Larkin's peak actually stretched from 1988 to 1999. For ease of comparison, lets use 1998 instead. Biggio and Alomar's both began in 1991 and stretched to 2001. Comparing these stretches shows some amazing similarities.

                  Runs  Hits  2B  3B HR  RBI SB     BA  OBP SLG  OPS+ WAR/Career
Sandberg   1038 1907 307 62 233 827 291   .292  .353  .466   122      57.7/64.9
Larkin        864   1561 285 56 141 656 286   .305  .382  .466   128      56.4/67.1
Alomar      1105 1895 368 60 168 861 355   .313  .389  .477   126      52.0/62.9
Biggio        1174 1856 386 41 160 704 313   .296  .390  .448   124      53.2/62.1

I think it would be difficult to find four more similar players than these four during their peaks. Larkin falls behind in several of the counting stats, due to injuries, but is right there in the rate stats. Obviously, the offensive environments were much different for Sandberg in the 80's NL and Alomar in the 90's AL, but that is reflected in the OPS + figure. Overall, these are remarkably similar lines. Where any one has an advantage, they give it up in other places. Furthermore, they each amassed over 80% of their career value in those 11 seasons.

There is no doubt that by the time Biggio reached 3,000 hits, he was a shell of his former self. By WAR, he was worth -2.3 in 2007 (meaning he would have been with Sandberg with 64 career had he just not played.) Thing is though, Biggio did not need 3,000 hits to be a Hall of Fame caliber player. His career was right in line with those of Sandberg, Larkin and Alomar, who were all elected to the Hall of Fame without any magic numbers. If Sandberg, Larkin and Alomar are Hall of Famers, there is absolutely no basis to keep out Craig Biggio.

1 comment:

Reverend Koosh said...

a couple things no one really ever considers:

1. Biggio was a catcher until he was 25, then he spent the next 9 years playing all his home games on turf. I'm pretty sure that didn't help his knees, legs or lower half of his body as he aged.

2. The dude got hit by 285 pitches. Also not something that helps you as you get older.

3. Played his prime seasons in one of the worst home parks for hitters.

4. Posted 5 seasons with an OPS above 130. Derek Jeter has 2.

It wasn't his career that really hurts his chances it was playing in Houston. If the guy played his entire career in Boston or New York they would write songs about him....