The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

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.

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans aft...

Acknowledging the appreciation of the fans after a double against the Reds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio ...

English: Jeff Bagwell (left) and Craig Biggio (Right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Finished yet?

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.


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13 thoughts on “Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Craig Biggio

  1. Biggio did nothing in his career to warrant memory. That’s why he won’t get in. Good player, yes, but also someone that you can dismiss from the HOF, and nobody will ever care, because there is no real reason to remember him. There are plenty of players out there with worse stats that mean much more to baseball, and it’s much easier to succeed in a place like Houston where there’s zero pressure and hardly anyone cares that your team even exists.

    • Pitt, I’m not quite clear what you mean by, “He did nothing in his career to warrant memory.” Such as what? All any player can do is perform at the highest level possible for as long as possible. Clearly, Biggio, with over 3,000 hits, over 600 doubles, 1800 runs scored, 400+ steals, and some Gold Gloves, All Star nods, and Silver Sluggers, performed at as high a level as a player normally needs to to be considered a HOF’er. As for playing his home games in Houston, well, he still had to face MLB pitchers his whole career, so what does it matter where he faced them? If he faces Roy Halladay in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Houston or Toronto, it’s still Roy Halladay. Since when was a player penalized for playing in a park where “hardly anyone cares that your team even exists?”
      Also, could you give me an example of a player that has worse stats that means “more to baseball” that should be in The Hall? In what way did they mean more to baseball (and to whom, specifically?)
      Thanks for reading,

  2. Craig Biggio’s Career HR totals make me wonder if he was clean

    161 HR’s Age 22-34 /13 seasons
    130 HR’s Age 35-41/ 7 seasons

    hmmmmm, think he was juicing like everyone else, you don;t just become a annual 20 HR hitter at age 35 when you’ve never really been one prior to that

    Food for thought, before he get annointed as the only ‘Suspected Clean” One on the ballot

    • Hi Doug,
      Well, keep in mind that Biggio played his home games the first dozen seasons of his career in the old Astrodome, which was not exactly a hitter’s paradise. Once the Astros moved to Enron / Minute Maid Park, his home run numbers did increase somewhat, but he was now playing his home games (as of the year 2000) in a much better hitting environment.
      Also, he did have four 20-homer seasons before he turned 35, then four from age 35 forward. His career high pre-age 35 was 22; after age-35 it was 26, not substantially different, and again, probably the result of a new, more hitter-friendly environment.
      Finally, he’s certainly not the first hitter in history to find his power-stroke later in his career. Cy Williams of the ’23 Phillies hit a career high 41 homers at age 35, and Dwight Evans hit a career high 34 homers in 1987, age 35. Chili Davis, Raul Ibanez, and most recently, Jose Bautista, have all been late-blooming power hitters.
      As far as steroid use, we’ll never know for sure which players were “clean” and which ones weren’t. So we can either paint them all with a wide brush stroke, and end up with virtually no one from this generation in The Hall, (which, at the very least, would be bad for business), or we can rely on the old, apparently out of fashion linchpin of Western jurisprudence, that one is innocent until proven guilty.
      Thank you for the interesting comment, Doug, and welcome aboard.

    • Umm, Doug? You may want to take note that, when Biggio turned 34, the Astros moved from the Astrodome, not exactly your basic homer haven, to Enron/Minute Maid, which is awfully homer-freindly to right-handed hitters.

  3. Always liked Biggio, even when he was a catcher. Have never been quite sure whether he or Bagwell were Houston’s best player. Hope he makes the Hall. Good job, as usual.

  4. Biggio is an interesting case in terms of HOF voting, as he had a broad base of skills without being extraordinary anywhere. He had very good power for a middle infielder, but not 30 or 40 HR power. His OBP was very good, but never league-leading good. He stole a lot of bases with an excellent percentage, and didn’t lose a lot of outs on GIDP either. He wasn’t a great second baseman, but he wasn’t awful either. I don’t think Biggio is the best player not in Cooperstown at the moment, but he did a whole lotta things very well for a very long time, and his argument is a pretty strong one.

    • I think that’s a pretty fair and accurate description of his career. He’s probably one of the top ten second basemen in history, but not the top five. I do think he’ll end up in The Hall, however, but it might take a two or three years of eligibility before he gets in.
      Thanks, Bill

  5. Nice post. One thing that frustrates me is the consistent ignoring of Minnie Minoso. He belongs, and when people look at his stats, they tend to agree with me. He’s getting up there in years; I sure don’t want him to get the election after he’s gone, like Ron Santo did. It would be great to see Minnie get elected while he’s around to enjoy it.

    As far as Craig Biggio is concerned, you make a good argument for him.

    Glen Russell Slater

    • Hi, I happen to agree with you that Minoso is a good candidate for the HOF. I’m pretty sure I wrote about him at some point. If I can find the post, I’ll send it to you.
      Thanks again, Bill

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