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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.