Monday’s Slate features an excerpt from The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 in which James explains why the Astros’ Craig Biggio went from being his favorite player this side of George Brett (“Biggio 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”) to becoming, well, exactly the sort of player who’d be the subject of the following essay :
As Biggio 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.
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.
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.
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.