Craig Biggio and the Hall of Fame

added 5/6/2001 by Ray Kerby

With Craig Biggio recently picking up his 2000th career hit in Montreal, the time seems right to comprehensively evaluate his case for Hall of Fame induction. As an Astros fan, it is easy for me to proclaim that Biggio is deserving of baseball's ultimate honor, but would fans in other cities agree? And, more importantly, would the sportswriters in other baseball cities agree? After all, they will be the ones casting the deciding votes five years after Biggio eventually hangs up his spikes.

To be objective about this, we must not only evaluate what Biggio has accomplished, but what the existing Hall-of-Fame second basemen have accomplished. In this era of increased offense, we must also compare Biggio to his contemporaries, since he will be competing with them for the votes of the sportswriters.

Comparing Biggio to existing Hall of Famers

Let's look at Biggio's accomplishments compared to the 15 current Hall of Fame second basemen, along with Ryne Sandberg, whose induction is all-but certain:

Hall of Fame second basemen
Player              Era  Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg   obp   slg    TPR
Nap Lajoie          00s  1504   3242   83  1599  380  .338  .380  .467   95.5
Rogers Hornsby      20s  1579   2930  301  1584  135  .358  .434  .577   82.7
Eddie Collins       10s  1821   3315   47  1300  744  .333  .424  .429   73.3
Joe Morgan          70s  1650   2517  268  1133  689  .271  .392  .427   54.8  
Charlie Gehringer   30s  1774   2839  184  1427  181  .320  .404  .480   45.0
Bid McPhee        1890s  1684   2313   53  1071  568  .277  .355  .373   41.0  VC
Bobby Doerr         40s  1094   2042  223  1247   54  .288  .362  .461   40.5  VC
Frankie Frisch      20s  1532   2880  105  1244  419  .316  .369  .432   38.6
Ryne Sandberg       80s  1318   2386  282  1061  344  .285  .344  .452   36.6
Bill Mazeroski      60s   769   2016  138   853   27  .260  .299  .367   36.3  VC
Craig Biggio        90s  1187   1969  160   741  358  .291  .381  .434   35.6  
Rod Carew           70s  1424   3053   92  1015  353  .328  .395  .429   34.2
Jackie Robinson     50s   947   1518  137   734  197  .311  .409  .474   32.0
Billy Herman        30s  1163   2345   47   839   67  .304  .367  .407   31.8  VC
Tony Lazzeri        30s   986   1840  178  1191  148  .292  .380  .467   17.5  VC
Nellie Fox          50s  1279   2663   35   790   76  .288  .348  .363   12.6  VC
Red Schoendienst    50s  1223   2449   84   773   89  .289  .337  .387   11.4  VC

Each player is ranked by Total Baseball's "Total Player Rating" (TPR), which is an attempt to measure overall offensive and defensive performance, adjusting for ballparks and era. You can see that defense is certainly considered by looking at the ranking for Bill Mazeroski, a weak hitter with a great glove. The 'era' column is the decade in which each player had his peak seasons. Veteran's Committee selections are listed with a 'VC' at the end of their line.

Anytime you look at a list like this, you can see how the Veteran's Committee is a double-edged sword. For every Bobby Doerr or Bill Mazeroski they induct, players like Nellie Fox and Red Schoendienst slip in. Still, Biggio has a TPR over 30, which is a good indication of Hall of Fame worthiness. Out of the 17 second basemen in the list, here is how Biggio ranks in each stat:

Player              Era  Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg   obp   slg    TPR
Craig Biggio        90s  12th   15th  7th  16th  6th  11th   7th   8th   11th

Overall, not a particularly impressive ranking against the 15 HOF second-basemen, which means Biggio would have trouble getting votes if he retired today. However, with just two solid seasons like 1999 (16 HR, 73 RBI, .294 avg), Biggio's rankings against the 15 Hall of Famers would look like this:

Player              Era  Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg   obp   slg    TPR
Craig Biggio        90s   8th   11th  4th  12th  5th  11th   7th   7th    7th*

(*the estimated TPR gained was cut in half due to the effects of Enron Field)

Still, at this point Biggio ranks in the top half of Hall of Fame second basemen in most categories. I don't think there will be any doubt of his qualifications if he produces two more good seasons.

Comparing Biggio to existing candidates

When Biggio is eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, his most severe competition will come from his contemporaries. This group includes second basemen retiring in the same general time as Biggio, along with good second basemen that had been previously snubbed. Once again, the assumption is made that Ryne Sandberg will easily be in the Hall of Fame by the time this occurs.

Modern-era second basemen 
Player          Era  Runs   Hits   HR   RBI   SB   avg   obp   slg    TPR
Bobby Grich     70s  1033   1833  224   864  104  .266  .371  .424   45.8
Craig Biggio    90s  1187   1969  160   741  358  .291  .381  .434   35.6  age 35
Roberto Alomar  90s  1228   2196  170   918  416  .304  .375  .448   33.8  age 33
Lou Whitaker    80s  1386   2369  244  1084  143  .276  .363  .426   26.3
Jeff Kent       90s   680   1228  194   793   61  .284  .348  .493   17.6  age 33  

As you can see, Biggio compares very well in this group. I would like to think that the Hall of Fame snub of Bobby Grich will be addressed before Biggio retires, but the writers will probably still be hung up on his .266 average. Never mind that he was a perennial Gold Glover with power, which explains his very high TPR.

The real competition for Biggio will come from Roberto Alomar. Alomar is two years younger and has superior career statistics across the board. Biggio's edge in TPR comes from adjusting for the stifling effects on offense caused by playing so many years in the Astrodome. Still, barring a drastic change in their careers, Alomar will be remembered as the superior of the two second basemen.

Fortunately, there is room in the Hall for two second basemen from the same decade, provided that they are both worthy. Biggio's career looks like it will pass muster for the Hall, so the final question becomes: "Will another active second baseman pass up Biggio before he retires?"

Two years ago, Chuck Knoblauch would have been the most likely answer for this question. However, his offensive and defensive skills have declined so rapidly that he is no longer a realistic possibility for the Hall. The sudden rise of Jeff Kent, however, has raised some eyebrows. After all, he did win the MVP last season, something which Biggio or Alomar has never accomplished. But his career stats are very low because of his late career start, and getting inducted into the Hall of Fame is all about career stats. Kent's best chance for reaching the Hall would require several more years similar to his 2000 campaign, and that seems very unlikely. For example, Kent is currently sporting a .269 average about 1/5th through the 2001 season, a far cry from the .334 average he set in his MVP season. At this point, Kent would have to be considered a long shot to catch Biggio in career value. In fact, his chief advantage is in RBI, and that can be attributed entirely to batting #4 in the Giants' lineup, while Biggio has batted leadoff for most of his career.

Biggio's intangibles

One final consideration has to be given to Biggio's case for the Hall of Fame. Sportswriters love "intangibles", because this gives them enough vagueness to make a case for their favorite players despite having tangible evidence.

Does Biggio have enough good intangibles? I think he does. For one thing, writers love "gamers": those mythical players that go out and play every day despite broken arms, snakebites, and whatever other ailments can bench a merely human player. Biggio had a 494 consecutive-game playing streak, and I think that will help make his case as a "gamer".

Biggio also has some impressive-sounding statistical intangibles. In 1997, Biggio became the first player in history to play a 162-game schedule without grounding into a double play. In 1998, he was the first player since Tris Speaker to collect 50 doubles and 50 stolen bases in a single season. It doesn't hurt that Speaker is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

One final intangible that could work in Biggio's favor is his position switch from catcher to second base. Much can be made about how Biggio was an All-Star catcher and then made the unheard-of transition to second base with such success that he not only become an All-Star at the new position, but he even became a Gold Glove winner. This is the kind of "intangible" story that writers love, and we can expect to relive this portion of Biggio's career over and over again when he becomes eligible for the Hall.

Conclusion

Because of pressure from Roberto Alomar, Biggio is not currently a lock for the Hall. Alomar will likely maintain his statistical edge and keep the perception of Biggio as the "2nd-best" second basemen of his era. However, sportswriters love round numbers and Biggio is in range of a lot of nice, round career numbers. Here are a few attainable career milestones:

2500 hits, needs 531, expected by 2003
500 doubles, needs 98, expected by 2003
200 homers, needs 40, expected by 2002/3
1500 runs, needs 313, expected by 2003
1000 RBI, needs 259, expected by 2004

Biggio will be 37 in the 2003 season, so his ability to reach all of those goals is uncertain. Obviously, Biggio needs to stay healthy because he would be a very debatable pick right now. If Biggio reaches any two of those goals, he will be a likely pick for the HOF. If he reaches them all, he will be a first-round, no-brainer lock.

Send this story to a friend