I have long had a borderline irrational admiration for Craig Biggio. He played for the Astros. He spent a lot of years making Cubs pitchers suffer. I shouldn’t like him, but I do. Can’t help it. I am inherently susceptible to rooting for sparkplug-type players, and Craig Biggio was certainly one of the sparkpluggiest sparkplugs in the history of the game.
With this in mind, you can imagine my displeasure upon learning that Mr. Biggio was not granted entrance into baseball’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday. Oh, I know he’ll get in eventually. But he deserved it on the first go. I can only surmise that none of the voters ever looked at the backside of one of his baseball cards.
I feel about as strongly on this subject as one could. Why? If you must know, it’s Bill James’ fault.
In 2001, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract was published. I consider this book to be the finest ever written on the subject of baseball. If this book says it, I will take it as the gospel truth. Which maybe isn’t a good thing, but that is a subject for another day.
In his Abstract, Bill James gives us a list of the 100 greatest baseball players of all time (up to that point. Which was 2001. Which you know already if you’ve been paying attention). Bill ranks Craig Biggio as the 35th greatest ballplayer in history. This is well ahead of many, many others who were shoo-in first-round hall-of-famers, and a few others who definitely will be, when their time comes (*cough-Maddux-cough-Griffey-coughcough*).
Rather than further barrage you with enumerations detailing my fondness for Mr. Biggio, I will leave you with a taste of what Bill James has to say about him. It is much more betterer.
Craig Biggio in 1997 was hit by 34 pitches, while grounding into zero double plays. Both of these figures were historic. He was the fifth player ever to play a full season without grounding into a double play, and missed the major league record for most plate appearance without grounding into a double play by only four. The 34 HBP was the highest total in the National League in 26 years, the second-highest of the twentieth century.
I have always linked these two stats together, long before Biggio, as “little stats.” There are half a dozen batting stats that get left out of USA Today, and left off baseball cards, because they’re not generally significant. The stats include sacrifice hits, sac flies, and intentional walks, but GIDP and hit batsmen are the most important of the group, the two which are most likely to change the way a player should be evaluated.
I have long wanted to make up a stat to summarize the impact of these categories, a “Little Stat Summary”, if you will. I have never actually created the formula, because I have already polluted the sport with quite a number of statistical inventions, and I’m afraid of slipping to a lower rung of the inferno if I make up any more. No, seriously, the reason I’ve never written such a formula is that it’s not clear what we would be measuring. For a statistic to have value, it has to be meaningful with reference to something other than it’s own formula.
Anyway, Biggio has the best “little stats” of any player in baseball history, this being one of the reasons that he has been tremendously underrated. If you compare him to, let’s say, Jim Rice in 1984, Biggio has a hidden advantage of 69 extra times on base, since he was hit by pitches 33 more times (34 to 1) and beat the throw to first on a double play attempt 36 more times (0 to 36). Those little stats that get left out of USA Today, in this comparison, have an impact roughly equivalent to 100 points of batting average.