Prospect Retrospective: Craig Biggio
Craig Biggio didn't get into the Hall of Fame. His case seems obvious enough to me and we'll get to that later in the article, but this is MinorLeagueBall.com, so let's first take a look at how he developed as a prospect.
Biggio was an outstanding player at Seton Hall University in the mid-1980s, hitting .342 with 90 steals from 1985 through 1987, finishing as the team's career leader in triples and ranking second in runs scored. Originally an infielder, he switched to catching in college to fill a team need, which enhanced his attraction for pro teams. He hit .407 with 14 homers as a junior, prompting the Astros selected him in the first round of the 1987 draft, 22nd overall. He was seen as a multi-tooled player with speed and power potential and solid defense.
Biggio signed quickly and was sent to Asheville in the South Atlantic League to begin his career. The jump from college ball to Low-A isn't always an easy one to make, but Biggio had no problems at all, hitting .375/.471/.597 (read that again) with 39 walks and 33 strikeouts in 216 at-bats, also stealing 31 bases in 64 games. Remember, that's half a season, and remember this was before the offensive explosion of the 1990s. His plate discipline was exceptional; he hit for power, and was unusually fast for a catcher. I was a college sophomore then and not grading prospects, but I can't imagine rating a similar player today as anything less than a Grade A- and probably a straight Grade A.
Jumped to Triple-A Tucson to open 1988, Biggio hit .320/.408/.456 in 77 games with 40 walks and 39 strikeouts in 281 at-bats, with 19 steals. Sure, it was the Pacific Coast League, but still. He had nothing left to prove there and was obviously ready for the majors. He was promoted at mid-season and took over behind the plate.
All told, he hit .344/.436/.517 with 38 doubles, 12 homers, 50 steals in 64 attempts, 79 walks, and 72 strikeouts in 497 at-bats in his farm career. Biggio never returned to the minors, not even for a rehab assignment.
For all the amazing minor league performance, Biggio didn't dominate right away in the majors. He hit just .211/.254/.350 in 50 games in '88, then .257/.336/.402 in 1989, although that was better than it looked. His OPS+ was solid enough at 114 and his WAR was positive at 2.3. His hitting tailed off a bit in '90 (.276/.342/.348) but his defense was good enough to keep his WAR positive at 3.4. He showed steady WAR improvement each year, with a 3.6 mark in an All-Star '91 season, 4.2 in '92, and 4.8 in '93. He switched to second base in '92 and made the All Star team for a second time, the first player in history to receive that nod at both catcher and second base.
Getting out from behind the plate seemed to unlock his power; he slammed 21 homers in '93, slugged .483 in the strike-shortened '94 season, then hit 22 more homers in '95. He remained a remarkably consistent and productive performer, with a positive WAR value every season of his career until age finally caught up with him in 2007.
Biggio was a terrific prospect and turned into a terrific player. The power he developed was not out of context with his minor league performance, and unlike many players in the PED era there was nothing hinky about his development.
All told, Biggio hit .281/.363/.433 in 2850 games, with 3060 hits, 414 steals, 112 OPS+ and a 70.5 career WAR. He made seven All Star Games, won four Gold Gloves, led the league in hit-by-pitches five times, and ranks second all-time with 285 hit-by-pitches, a painful but effective way to boost your OBP.
As for his Hall of Fame qualifications, Biggio spent most of his career at second base. Among players whose primary position was second base, Biggio's 70.5 WAR ranks 10th all time, in the neighborhood of Frankie Frisch (78.7), Lou Whitaker (74.3), Bobby Grich (74.2), and Roberto Alomar (67.9). Frisch and Alomar are in the Hall, and both Whitaker and Grich have good cases even if the voters haven't recognized that.
Biggio's WAR is well ahead of other HOF second basemen like Ryne Sandberg (62.6), Bobby Doerr (61.0), Billy Herman (56.8) Tony Lazzeri (56.7), and Nellie Fox (55.5).
According to Jay Jaffe's JAWS system, Biggio ranks 13th all time as a second baseman, with a 51.3 JAWS rating. An average HOF second baseman has a 54.4 JAWS, making Biggio slightly below average as HOF second baggers go, but still a very reasonable candidate. He was certainly better than many players who have been so honored.
Biggio's Bill James Sim Score list is also instructive. Biggio's top 10 Sim Scores are Robin Yount (Hall), Derek Jeter (will be Hall), Joe Morgan (Hall), Paul Molitor (Hall), Roberto Alomar (Hall), Cal Ripken (Hall), Johnny Damon (Hall?), Brooks Robinson (Hall), Lou Whitaker, and George Brett (Hall).
Robinson, Damon, and especially Brett look like a strange comps but Biggio is one of those guys who breaks the Sim Score system; his highest SS is Yount at 836 (you need at least 900 points in the James system to be a good comp) with Brett quite low at 735. This means that there are few players who were truly comparable to Biggio; he is an archetype, but the few players who are remotely comparable to Biggio are all Hall of Famers, or should be.
There's no doubt in my mind that Biggio belongs in the Hall of Fame.