Scouting the second basemen

added 11/27/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Craig Biggio is the Astros second baseman in 2006 and will be for as long as he wants to be. That statement by itself invokes different emotions in different people. People that want the team to do its best and don't feel particularly attached to players are upset at this fact. Those of us that have grown up watching Craig Biggio play are excited at the thought that he could get 3000 hits. However, I would like to answer three questions in this column in regards to Biggio's continued play. First, does his continued play help or hurt his Hall of Fame resume? Secondly, is his quest for 3000 hits getting in the way? Finally, is he overpaid?

The first question is the easiest to answer, but takes the longest explanation. A few of you may know that I'm working on a book project on the Hall of Fame. Craig Biggio is not part of the current book project because he's still playing, so I feel okay releasing a little proprietary information to whet everyone's appetite. What I have done is create what I call the 'Hall of Fame index'. In this index, I add up the player's runs created above average at their position, win shares, and fielding runs above average for their career and their peak (top seven seasons).

I've brought up all three before I know I have my critics out there. All three have their weaknesses, but the general idea is that they use different methods and make different assumptions, so the weaknesses and strengths cancel each other out. The Hall of Fame standard for win shares has been 300, while RCAP and FRAA vary from player to player. When we add up career value and peak value we should arrive at least a 1000 for a player to be a legitimate Hall of Famer. When the index score is considerably over 1000 then the player is among the all-time greats.

Win Shares: 411      Win Shares: 223
RCAP: 452            RCAP: 335
FRAA: -108           FRAA: -32
Career Index: 755    Peak Index: 526

So, we see that Craig Biggio's index score is 1281, which means that there should be no doubt as to whether he is fit to be in the Hall of Fame. The question before us is an easy one: if Biggio continues to play will he add to his index score or not? We can answer this question easily if we look at his last year.

Win Shares: 18
RCAP: 11
FRAA: -4
2005 Index: 25

I cannot fathom Biggio having enough of a drop-off to move into negative numbers. In particular, Biggio had a renaissance in the field last season where he lost only four runs to average. One of the fallacies about Biggio is that he suffered a lot by moving to the outfield. While it is true that he was not a good defensive outfielder, what we find is that second base is the most valuable defensive position on the diamond. If you don't believe me checkout these numbers from the last five seasons.

         FRAA    Position
2001      -15          2B
2002      -16          2B
2003       -2          CF
2004       -7       CF/LF 
2005       -4          2B

As we can see, he was not a good second baseman before he shifted to the outfield. In fact, that is being charitable. Biggio was in the bottom three in terms of defense in 2001 and 2002. It would be interesting to find out why he improved so much between 2002 and 2005. He committed twice as many errors in 2005 as 2002 and had fewer chances per game in 2005 as he had in 2002. It sounds to me like he was actually worse in 2005, but those fielding run totals are based on how he compares to the league and how his situation is different than other second basemen. For instance, since the Astros staff had more strikeouts and flyball outs than most staffs, he was expected to have fewer chances.

The long and short of it is that Biggio belongs in the Hall of Fame and is not particularly adding to his resume from a sabermetric perspective. If Biggio were an average fielder he would likely be in the top five all-time at the position, but as it stands he probably fits comfortably in the top ten. Another couple of seasons is not going to change that one way or the other.

What about Burke?

The second question was whether Biggio's quest for 3000 hits getting in the way? In other words, is Biggio blocking Chris Burke? We should probably start by looking at Chris Burke and the qualifications he brings to the table. Of course, we need to project his numbers by looking at the early season versus the latter part of the season.

          AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS    HR    Runs   RBI
Before   .229   .285   .300   .585     1     19     12
After    .270   .335   .446   .781     4     30     14

If we assume that Burke produces the second half numbers over the course of a full season then we can compare them directly with Biggio's numbers. It isn't a far-fetched idea considering that most players do settle in after a year in the big leagues and the numbers don't even come near his minor league numbers. So, let's compare the two by their percentage statistics.

          AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS
Biggio   .264   .325   .468   .793
Burke	 .270   .335   .446   .781

So, when we look at the actual numbers we see that if Burke can produce his second half numbers he would be almost as productive as Biggio. Ah, but aren't we forgetting about a few things? Namely, Burke should be better on the basepaths and better defensively than Biggio. Let's see if that's true.

            SB   CS  FRAA
Biggio      11    1    -4
Burke       11    6     1

Burke has only played 25 games as a second baseman in his career, so his numbers are a bit deceptive. If he played a full season he would save six runs above average if he kept the same pace throughout an entire season. So, he would be ten runs better defensively than Biggio. However, Biggio was more productive on the base-paths last season.

So, all told we could argue that Chris Burke would be at least as productive as Craig Biggio in a full season at second base. On the surface, that would seem to support continuing with Biggio, but we have to remember that Burke is making the league minimum in comparison with Biggio's three million dollars (assuming he is paid the same as last season).

Is Biggio Overpaid?

This is the third question and the easiest question to answer. All we need to do is show a flow chart of second basemen with win shares and the salaries to determine whether Biggio is overpaid. Like with the first basemen, we will add their win shares over the past three seasons along with their salaries according to

                  WS  Salary
Mark Loretta      71    2.75
Jeff Kent         70    7.35
Marcus Giles      68    2.35
Luis Castillo     62    4.99
Alfonso Soriano   59    7.50
Brian Roberts     57    0.39
Placido Polanco   57    4.60
Craig Biggio      54    3.00
Ray Durham        49    7.20
Orlando Hudson    49    0.37
Ron Belliard      47    2.50
Adam Kennedy      44    3.00
Mark Grudielanek  44    1.00
Bret Boone        44    9.00
Todd Walker       41    2.50
Jose Vidro        40    7.00
Mark Ellis        39    0.40

Here we see that there are seventeen second basemen that have played regularly for the last three seasons. In one sense it demonstrates how much turnover there is every year, but it also shows that there is value in having someone that can hold down the position for that long. At any rate, determining financial value is actually very simple. We see that Biggio ranks eighth among the seventeen second basemen in win shares over the last three seasons. In other words, he is about as close to the middle of the pack as you can get. Ideally, his salary should also be in the middle of the pack. He is tied for eighth in salary based on last year's numbers. So, his production meets his value unless Drayton decided to give him a significant raise for 2006.

Putting it all together

I realize many of you are blinded by numbers now and I don't blame you. Suffice it to say, this is the kind of cost benefit analysis that teams make on a regular basis (or at least they should). So, to rundown the grand list: Craig Biggio definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame and his continued play will not determine whether he goes in the Hall of Fame, but it's not hurting his chances either. We also see that the club might be better off playing Burke everyday, but Biggio and him are almost identical, so if they find another slot for Burke it will be okay. Biggio is getting paid around where he should be given his production. At this point in time, his quest for 3000 hits is not a detriment to the team or him, but it bears watching.