Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Craig Biggio
It won’t be long before Craig Biggio comes up for Hall of Fame voting. The former second baseman / outfielder (he caught a little, too) of the Houston Astros was one of the finest infielders of his era. Though this post is not specifically meant to be an argument in favor of his HOF induction, the stats we will be looking at today certainly do nothing to diminish his case.
When it comes to middle infielders like Biggio (and he was primarily a second baseman), the usual expectation as far as offense is concerned is a player with around a .300 batting average, good bat control (meaning few strikeouts and a reasonable ability to bunt), and decent, if not spectacular, speed. Durability and solid defense are obvious pluses as well.
What we don’t necessarily expect from a middle infielder, (though there have been some notable exceptions) is solid power. Most middle infielders survive with the occasional homer, breaking into double digits in the odd season. Some push a bit further than that, into the 10-20 home run range.
When I was first studying Craig Biggio’s stats, there were several that impressed me a great deal. First of all, in his amazing 1997 season, he grounded into exactly zero double plays in 744 plate appearances. That same year he led the N.L. by being hit by 34 pitches, one of five seasons in which he led the N.L. in that statistic.
I was also impressed that when he led the N.L. in stolen bases in the strike-shortened 1994 season with 39, he was also caught just four times.
Perhaps most impressively, Biggio’s 4,711 career total bases are just one short of Rogers Hornsby’s record of 4,712 among players who primarily played second base in their careers.
And how about those 668 doubles, fifth most in baseball history?
It occurred to me, then, almost as an afterthought to take a closer look at his home run numbers.
So here’s an exercise for you. (In the spirit of the upcoming school year), take out a piece of paper and a #2 lead pencil.
Now write down the following players’ names in the order you believe they had the most to least 20 homer seasons.
Bobby Grich, Alan Trammell, Joe Morgan, Joe Gordon, Tony Lazzeri, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg, Frankie Frisch, Bobby Doerr, Jeff Kent, Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio.
I know that you know where this is going, but hell, play along anyway.
The now obvious question for this post is, then, “How Many 20+ Home Run Seasons Did Craig Biggio Accumulate in His Career?”
Here is the list of players in order from most 20+ homer seasons to fewest:
1) Jeff Kent – 12
2) Craig Biggio – 8
3) Joe Gordon – 7
3) Rogers Hornsby – 7
5) Ryne Sandberg – 5
6) Joe Morgan – 4
6) Lou Whitaker – 4
8) Roberto Alomar – 3
8) Bobby Doerr – 3
8)) Derek Jeter – 3
11) Bobby Grich – 2
11) Barry Larkin – 2
11) Alan Trammell – 2
14) Charlie Gehringer – 1
15) Frankie Frisch – 0
15) Tony Lazzeri – 0
As you can see, few middle infielders in baseball history consistently hit as many home runs as Craig Biggio. Yet ten of the players on this list are already in the HOF, and Derek Jeter will surely follow them in when the time comes.
Biggio retired after the 2007 season at age 41. He hit 291 home runs in his career, the same number as “Toy Cannon” Jimmy Wynn, and just ten fewer than Rogers Hornsby. He hit more homers than did first basemen Will Clark, Steve Garvey and Ted Kluszewski.
Craig Biggio’s eight 20+ home run seasons are also as many as Don Mattingly and Roberto Clemente accomplished, if you put them together.
The point here is that if you are looking for a hole in Craig Biggio’s potential Hall of Fame resume, you’ll have to look elsewhere, for hitting for power was a relative strength of his.
All statistics, of course, are, to a certain extent, arbitrary. I am not arguing that Craig Biggio was the best player on this list (though few on this list were clearly better.)
There is no doubt, however, that Craig Biggio’s power was an underrated, and perhaps surprising, facet of his game.