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Thread: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Houston As

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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Houston As

    By Bill James

    http://slate.com/id/2184797

    Bill James is not only one of the most influential baseball thinkers of his generation, he's also one of the most influential writers. For decades, James has been challenging and reshaping the game's conventional wisdom with his uniquely brilliant and witty essays. His latest book, The Bill James Gold Mine 2008, includes hundreds of pages of analysis, scores of statistical nuggets, and 17 new essays. In this excerpt, James explains how Craig Biggio became his favorite baseball player and why he ultimately soured on the just-retired Houston Astros stalwart.

    I wonder how many people even remember anymore that Craig Biggio came to the majors as a catcher? Biggio wasn't much of a catcher, honestly, but he was a major league regular catcher for three and a half years. This was ages ago. When I heard that the Astros were taking their young catcher and moving him to second base I thought, "Yeah, right; that'll work great." I would have given you 20-1 odds it would fail. I've been a baseball fan a long time. Moves like that always fail.

    Biggio made it work, however, and I was thrilled to be wrong. It was such an unusual thing to see a player who could make a transition like that at the major league level, from catcher to second base. It required something that you don't often see, an exceptional level of determination, dedication and adaptability.

    Gradually, over the years after that, Craig Biggio emerged as my favorite player. I had a Craig Biggio pennant on my wall. The only other one I ever had was George Brett. I was never an Astros fan; that wasn't it. It had to do with something Dan Okrent had asked me, when he was working on an article for Sports Illustrated in 1980. "Bill," he said, "you write about the player with subtle skills, the player who isn't a recognized star but who is just as valuable as the star because of his combination of skills. Who is the player that best exemplifies that other kind of star?"

    I couldn't come up with anybody. I finally pointed toward Al Bumbry, who was that kind of a player in 1980, but not consistently throughout his career. I loved Craig Biggio because he was the perfect answer to that question. He was the player who wasn't a star, but who was just as valuable as the superstars because of his exceptional command of a collection of little skills—getting on base, and avoiding the double play, and stealing a base here and there, and playing defense. Here was the guy who scored 120 runs every year because he hit 45 or 50 doubles every year and walked 70 to 90 times a year and led the majors in being hit with the pitch and hardly ever grounded into a double play and somehow stole 25 to 50 bases every year although he really had very average speed.

    You have to understand, when I wrote in 1998 that Craig Biggio was one of the five greatest second basemen of all time, people thought I was nuts. Very few people at that time saw him as a special player. I liked that, too—I liked people thinking I was out on a limb about something when I knew I was right. I loved doing a point-by-point summary comparing Craig Biggio to Ken Griffey Jr., and showing Biggio was actually as valuable, in his best seasons, as Griffey. Griffey at that time was generally regarded as the best player in baseball. In 1997 Griffey outhomered Biggio 56-22, in 1998 56-20. But Biggio had a higher batting average, more doubles and triples, more stolen bases with a better stolen base percentage, was hit by pitches an additional 20 times a year and grounded into fewer double plays. He had as many walks and fewer strikeouts. It was pretty obvious that, if you added together all of Biggio's advantages, Biggio was, at a minimum, on the same level.

    Later on, after an injury, the Astros needed a center fielder. Craig Biggio raised his hand and said, "I can play center. We've got other guys here who can cover second; put me in center." Later he moved back to second. It's an amazing thing, absolutely amazing. Who else could cover you at three of the four up-the-middle defensive positions? Nobody.


    But in the last years of his career, my affection for Biggio started to fade, I'm afraid. As he moved closer to 3,000 career hits there came a general recognition of his status as a star player, which severed the bond that I felt to him when he was deserving of recognition that he wasn't getting. Yes, he moved to center field and yes, he moved back to second base when they needed him back at second base, but in all candor, he was pretty awful in center field, and he was pretty awful defensively back at second base. I got tired of pretending not to notice.

    At some point, Biggio was hanging around to get 3,000 hits. On the one hand I was happy for him that he was going to get his 3,000 hits and pleased that he had proven to everybody that he was a great player, but it's not something I really admire, hanging around to pursue personal goals. He couldn't hit a good pitcher—never could, really. His career batting average in post-season play was .234, OPS somewhere around .600. His clutch hitting record is miserable.

    We have this profile in the online … Batting Performance by Quality of Opposing Pitcher. Of course, over time, almost everybody is going to hit better against weaker pitchers. I doubt that anybody was as consistent or extreme about it as Biggio was. In 2003 he hit .354 against pitchers with ERAs over 5.25 (64 for 181), but .143 against pitchers with ERAs under 3.50 (19 for 133). In 2004 he hit .382 with 10 homers in 110 at bats against pitchers with ERAs over 5.25. Every year he has had huge good pitcher/bad pitcher splits.

    I'm not picking on him, I hope, but the reason that Biggio struggled in clutch situations and against good pitchers couldn't be more obvious. He was an overachiever, and he knew what he was doing. Against a weak pitcher, a pitcher not really in command of his material, Biggio could take control of the at bat and drive it toward a good conclusion. When the pitcher was not really focused, Biggio was. But when the pressure was on and there was somebody on the mound who knew what he was doing, Biggio had limited ability to step up. Maybe this was not as true in the 1990s. I hope. We'll figure the data and put it online.

    I'll still say today, if there was a draft and you could look ahead and say, "OK, that guy's going to be Ken Griffey, that guy's going to be Frank Thomas, that guy's going to be Juan Gonzalez, that guy's going to be Tom Glavine, that guy's going to be Craig Biggio," just give me Biggio and I'll take my chances. Maybe that's not what the numbers say is the right answer, but Biggio was the guy who would do whatever needed to be done. Makes it a lot easier to build a team.

    And then the story went on a little too long. You ever go to a movie, it' s pretty good for about an hour and a half but then the story is over but it's like the director can't find the ending so it goes on for another half-hour looking for some way to tie things together? That's kind of Biggio's career; it was over, and then it went on for quite awhile.

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    CELEBRATION TIME RBA's Avatar
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Yup, Biggio is great with his armor on stepping into pitches.

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    My clutch is broken RichRed's Avatar
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Biggio's the baseball equivalent of that song you really like that you wish would get more airplay on the radio. Then your local mainstream radio station starts playing it and the song doesn't seem so cool any more.

    Thanks for posting, woy.
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by RichRed View Post
    Biggio's the baseball equivalent of that song you really like that you wish would get more airplay on the radio. Then your local mainstream radio station starts playing it and the song doesn't seem so cool any more.

    That's a pretty good analogy.
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Biggio was a good player for a long time on his team. I don't know if I would ever call him a great player.

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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    How is this any different from guys like Eddie Murray, who stuck around the game for an eternity as a DH (or any hitter headed to the AL DH stud farm)? I don't get it.

    I'm sure Biggio would gladly have accepted a trade to the AL to the do the DH thing for his 3000 hits, but he was under contract to the Astros. They didn't have to sign him.

    I don't think it's possible to enumerate guys who stuck around too long.

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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by bucksfan2 View Post
    Biggio was a good player for a long time on his team. I don't know if I would ever call him a great player.
    Biggio is one of the five or six greatest second basemen the game has ever seen. If you think otherwise, then try to come up with a half dozen second sackers who you believe were better.

    As you'd find, it's almost impossible to do.
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclone792 View Post
    Biggio is one of the five or six greatest second basemen the game has ever seen. If you think otherwise, then try to come up with a half dozen second sackers who you believe were better.

    As you'd find, it's almost impossible to do.
    Just think if they never would have switched him over to second and kept him at catcher? wonder what what have happened and how long he would have lasted in the game? no doubt he would have been good heck his first all-star game was as a catcher, I just doubt he would have had the durability to last as long in the league...but who knows, I could be wrong with that as well.

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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclone792 View Post
    Biggio is one of the five or six greatest second basemen the game has ever seen. If you think otherwise, then try to come up with a half dozen second sackers who you believe were better.

    As you'd find, it's almost impossible to do.
    In no particular order:

    Joe Morgan
    Rogers Hornsby
    Nap Lajoie
    Jackie Robinson
    Charlie Gehringer
    Bobby Grich
    Rod Carew
    Ryne Sandberg
    Joe Gordon
    Eric Stratton, Rush Chairman. Damn glad to meet ya.

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    Passion for the game Team Clark's Avatar
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Big Klu View Post
    In no particular order:

    Joe Morgan
    Rogers Hornsby
    Nap Lajoie
    Jackie Robinson
    Charlie Gehringer
    Bobby Grich
    Rod Carew
    Ryne Sandberg
    Joe Gordon
    And that is just the TOP of the list...
    It's absolutely pathetic that people can't have an opinion from actually watching games and supplementing that with stats. If you voice an opinion that doesn't fit into a black/white box you will get completely misrepresented and basically called a tobacco chewing traditionalist...
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    breath westofyou's Avatar
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Team Clark View Post
    And that is just the TOP of the list...
    Nope.... Eddie Collins is at the top.

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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Team Clark View Post
    And that is just the TOP of the list...
    I don't know. Several of those guys are big, big stretches for being ranked ahead of Biggio.

    But I favor the modern athlete (facing the modern bullpen). If that can be considered a bias. I might go Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg, and Carew being better than Biggio. But that's about it. (Kent doesn't count because he's one of the worst fielding second basemen I've ever seen).

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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Big Klu View Post
    In no particular order:

    Joe Morgan
    Rogers Hornsby
    Nap Lajoie
    Jackie Robinson
    Charlie Gehringer
    Bobby Grich
    Rod Carew
    Ryne Sandberg
    Joe Gordon
    Biggio wipes Grich, Carew, Sandberg, and Gordon away. It's really not even close. The overall run production - offensively and defensively - is far in Biggio's favor.

    If you give Jackie Robinson Negro League credit, then he's arguable. Gehringer is arguable too, but Biggio did outproduce him too.

    Eddie Collins was probably better than all of them too.
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    Waitin til next year bucksfan2's Avatar
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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Falls City Beer View Post
    I don't know. Several of those guys are big, big stretches for being ranked ahead of Biggio.

    But I favor the modern athlete (facing the modern bullpen). If that can be considered a bias. I might go Hornsby, Morgan, Sandberg, and Carew being better than Biggio. But that's about it. (Kent doesn't count because he's one of the worst fielding second basemen I've ever seen).
    Kent's bat made up for his poor defense. I would also say in their prime Alomar was a better 2b than Biggio. I liken Biggio to Palmero (before knowing that he was on viagra/hgh) in that they were good but never great. Sure its hard to knock Biggio because of what his overall numbers say but over his last 6 years he complied stats while playing at a level that was far from his prime. Maybe his last few years tarnish his legacy but I don't rank him among the greats at 2b.

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    Re: The Epic of Craig BiggioWhy I loved, and then grew tired of, the long-time Housto

    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclone792 View Post
    Biggio wipes Grich, Carew, Sandberg, and Gordon away. It's really not even close. The overall run production - offensively and defensively - is far in Biggio's favor.
    By what metric? I only ask because looking at b-r shows this:

    Gehringer: Career OPS+: 124; Top 5 seasons: 149, 142, 144, 139, 139; Career RC/27: 7.3

    Grich: Career OPS+: 125; Top 5 seasons: 164, 142, 145, 138, 135; Career RC/27: 5.6

    Carew: Career OPS+: 131; Top 5 seasons: 178, 157, 152, 150, 144 (I didn't check to see during which of those seasons he was primarily a 2B or 1B); Career RC/27: 6.2

    Gordon: Career OPS+: 120; Top 5 seasons: 155, 135, 134, 126, 123 (only two seasons under 100); Career RC/27: 5.6

    Biggio: Career OPS+ 111; Top 5 seasons: 143, 141, 139, 138, 130; Career RC/27: 5.9

    Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see wiped away here.
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