Career Statistics: 12503 PA, .281/.363/.433, 291 HR, 414 SB, .352 wOBA, 115 wRC+, 65.1 fWAR (84th among position players all-time, 10th among second basemen)
Years Active: 1988 - 2007
Position: Second Baseman
Time on the Ballot: Third (74.8% of the vote in 2014)
The seventh entry in this series on members of the 2015 Hall of Fame Ballot looks at the seventh and final player who cleared the 75% threshold for induction on the Pinstripe Alley mock ballot; Craig Biggio. Unlike several of the six who came before Biggio is also a virtual certainty to be named by 75% of the BBWAA voters and punch his ticket to Cooperstown in 2015, having fallen two agonising votes short in 2014.
"Short catchers are better because they don't have to stand up as far"
Yogi Berra, on Craig Biggio
Biggio was selected by the Houston Astros in the first round of the 1987 draft, as a catcher out of Seton Hall University. Despite being relatively undersized for the position, Biggio stuck at catcher during his quick ascent through the minor leagues, making his major league debut midway through the 1988 season. By 1989, his first full season, Biggio was a Silver Slugger with a 115 wRC+ and by 1991 he was a National League All Star having posted 3.5 fWAR. Craig Biggio played 428 of his 2,850 MLB games as a catcher, all but one before the end of the 1991 season.
Unusually quick for a catcher, Biggio swiped 75 bags over his first three full seasons. Houston started playing Biggio in the outfield part-time to save his legs, and heading into the 1992 season the Astros decided to move Biggio to second base full-time. An infielder in high school, Biggio took to the switch comfortably as he played all 162 games, posted 3.9 fWAR and earned his second All-Star appearance; becoming the first and still only player to have made the All Star team at both catcher and second base.
In 1993, Biggio developed his power stroke as he set a then-career-high in home runs with 21. If his speed was unusual for a then-catcher, his power production was rare both among second basemen and leadoff hitters. He remains the NL record holder for home runs leading off a game, with 53. Biggio made five consecutive All-Star teams between 1994 and 1998, in in that spell four times posted a wRC+ figure of 144 or higher - he was regularly 40% better than the league average hitter, providing incredibly valuable production for the Astros from a position not usually known for offensive contribution.
1997 was Biggio's career year, posting a .309/.415/.501 slash line towards 148 wRC+ and excellent defense at second base that helped him tally 9.3 fWAR. Along with teammate and fellow member of the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot Jeff Bagwell, Biggio led the Astros to the postseason for the first time since losing the 1986 NLCS to the New York Mets. The 1997 Astros were swept by the Atlanta Braves of the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz vintage, though. Houston made it back to the postseason in 1998 and 1999 but they lost in the NLDS to the eventual pennant winner each time; 1998 to the San Diego Padres and 1999 to the Braves again.
After playing in all but four of the 648 Astros games from 1996 to 1999, Biggio faced his first serious injury in 2000. Not from one of his modern-era record of 285 hits by pitch, but rather a hard slide into second base into the leg of Biggio as he was attempting to turn a double play left him with a torn ACL and MCL. The injury cut short his season in early August, but even before that Biggio was on pace to post the worst season of his career. He had fallen to league average offensively (101 wRC+) and tallied 1.5 fWAR in 101 games after seven straight seasons of at least 4.4 fWAR. Biggio made a full recovery heading into 2001 and played in 155 games for the NL Central champions, hitting 20 home runs and raising his wRC+ back to 116 and fWAR to 2.8. It was not quite peak Biggio but still good for the eighth best season for a second baseman in the MLB, and third best in the NL.
Biggio was moved to center field before the start of the 2003 season to make way for Jeff Kent, and again into left field during the 2004 season when the Astros traded for Carlos Beltran. Now well into his decline phase, Biggio was still a useful contributor on that 2004 Astros team that fell just shy of the World Series, losing in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals. Biggio moved back to second base in 2005 once it was vacated by Kent's departure. With long-time fellow Astros stalwart Bagwell missing the bulk of the season with an arthritic shoulder, Biggio was part of a team that made it to the World Series on the back of pitching instead of it's Killer-B's. Still a key contributor though, Biggio hit a career-high 26 home runs in 2005 and posted an above average 106 wRC+ even if his defense at second base had declined.
Derek Jeter joins Craig Biggio and Rickey Henderson as only players with at least 3,000 hits, 250 HR and 350 steals in MLB history
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 12, 2014
As middle infielders who spent 20-year Hall of Fame caliber careers with a single team, the comparison between Craig Biggio and Derek Jeter is a natural one. Certainly the are strong statistical similarities between the two, Baseball Reference's similarity score calculator for Jeter shows Craig Biggio as the hitter whose career most matched Jeter. It's not hard to see why.
Biggio: 12503 PA, .281/.363/.433, 291 HR, 414 SB, .352 wOBA, 115 wRC+
Jeter: 12602 PA, .310/.377/.440, 260 HR, 358 SB, .360 wOBA, 119 wRC+
Biggio did not have Jeter's postseason success, of course. Very few players in the history of the game could claim to match Jeter's postseason legacy. Craig Biggio never did win a championship, though he was a pillar of an Astros team that brought postseason baseball back to Houston after over a decade, and he was a leader of the squad that went to the World Series for the first time in Astros history.
Jay Jaffe takes a look at Biggio's candidacy using his JAWS model and while Biggio ranks in below Bobby Grich and Lou Whitaker as second basemen who were not inducted, once his time at catcher and center field is accounted for he looks a deserving candidate. Among the members of the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, Biggio is 13th both by bWAR and fWAR - the Fangraphs list sorted separately by batting and pitching wins. With each voter capped at ten candidates, there could be an argument for leaving Biggio off the ballot. Though only because of the archaic and arbitrary limit, which has already driven voters like Lynn Henning to boycott the process entirely when Henning would have otherwise turned in an excellent ballot.
Craig Biggio should be a Hall of Famer. He will be a Hall of Famer but his induction has already taken longer than needed, and votes cast for him are votes that cannot be used to carry another worthy candidate. The Hall of Fame voting process needs to be fixed.
Congratulations on a glittering career Craig Biggio.
Likely Cap if Elected: Houston Astros