The old saying goes “like father, like son”. For Cavan Biggio, he can only hope to have a career that remotely resembles his father’s. Craig Biggio is one of the greatest second basemen to ever play the game. His 25-year-old son is now taking his shot at greatness.
Heading into the 2020 season, Cavan Biggio is as controversial a hitter as there is in the fantasy community. On one hand, you have a player that can provide you with solid power, good runs scored, and great stolen base totals. On the other hand, you have a player coming off a season where he hit .234 across 430 plate appearances. That player also had an uninspiring 28.6 strikeout percentage.
His average draft position in NFBC leagues shows how hot and cold drafters are on the Blue Jays player. In 45 drafts since May 1st, Biggio has a maximum pick of 100, and a minimum pick of 150. There seems to be a large audience that believes Biggio is who he is at the plate, despite only having played 100 games in the majors. Is Cavan Biggio simply a power-speed hitter that will strike out too much and hit for a low average? This article attempts to answer that question.
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Cavan Biggio Plate Discipline Approach
The next time you watch Cavan Biggio hit, challenge yourself. Hold your breath and see if you can make it until he has a final pitch result. Chances are you will lose. Biggio was among the highest players in the league on a total pitch per plate appearance basis, averaging 4.35 pitches every time he stepped to the plate. That tied him for the 17th highest pitch per plate appearance total in 2019. His balls per plate appearance were even higher. At 1.87 balls per plate appearance, Biggio was tied for the 7th highest total.
That patience led Biggio to an elite 16.5 percent walk rate, and a near 85th percentile .364 on-base percentage (OBP). Those types of numbers would initially lead one to believe that he would hit for a high batting average. For reference, the below table shows all hitters who had a .364 OBP, and their corresponding batting average.
So what is the reason for Biggio’s poor batting average?
The issue: Biggio simply did not swing enough, which led to a lot of strikeouts. He struck out 43 times on called third strikes last season. That was good for a 10.0% called third strike rate, which put him among the bottom 15 players in the league. Biggio’s 35.9% overall swing percentage put him among the 10 lowest swing rates in the entire league.
But wait, there are some really good players who hit for high averages on that table, including Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Alex Bregman. In fact, if you look closely at the other columns, Biggio swings less outside the strike zone, and swings more inside the zone than those aforementioned players. That is strange. The next logical step is to look at his contact profile.
Biggio did not have a bad contact profile by any means. He had a 75.9% contact rate, which nearly put him at the ~ 77% league average mark. His 85.6% in-zone contact (Z-Contact) rate was nearly identical to league average. Where Biggio struggled was when swinging at pitches out of the zone. A 47.1% outside the zone contact rate was nearly 16 percent less than league average, which ranked him near the bottom of the entire league.
When comparing Biggio to the aforementioned elite hitters of Trout, Betts, and Bregman, his contact profile is nowhere near the three:
That is a huge difference. The trio all have elite contact percentages relative to their peers. Despite their low swing totals, they make up for it by hitting the ball at a high rate when they do swing. Biggio does not. If he wants to hit for a high better average, he needs to be towards the upper tier at making contact, or he needs to change his swing approach. The latter seems to be the way to go. Don’t believe me? Look at the below 10-game rolling average of Biggio’s swing percentage versus his batting average:
Judging by this graphic, Biggio started thinking the same way towards the middle of the year. His batting average trended upwards for the entirety of the second half of the season, and so did his swing percentage. Across his last 50 games played, Biggio swung more, a lot more. He was above league average for a majority of the time period. In those 50 games, he had 226 plate appearances. His final stat line across those 50 games (along with his 600 plate appearance pace):
|Last 50 games||226||0.261||38||9||24||7|
|600 PA Pace||600||0.261||101||24||64||19|
Pull Until You Can’t Pull No More: Batted Ball Data
Batted Ball Type Profile
When observing Cavan Biggio’s batted ball data, he is definitely on board with the modern-day approach: pull the ball, and hit it in the air. Biggio pulled 49.4% of his batted balls, which ranked well into the top 15 percent of the league. His fly ball percentage of 47.0% was more extreme, as he was above the 90th percentile in fly-ball rate. Perhaps most important, Biggio had an elite line drive rate. The 27.6% rate Biggio eclipsed in 2019 ranked him among the top 10 of hitters with at least 150 plate appearances. The reason line drive rate is so important is because it is the closest batted ball type related to a higher BABIP, as can be seen by the graphic below.
In theory, if a hitter has a high line drive rate, he should also have an above-average batting average. As has been noted several times before, that is not the case for Biggio. He did have a slightly above league average BABIP, sitting at .309. However, the average BABIP of the top 25 hitters in line drive rate was .329. This is where we circle back to Biggio’s pull percentage.
Pulling the ball is typically a good thing, as it leads to more hard-hit balls and more home runs. However, when a hitter becomes an extreme pull hitter like Biggio, they start to see more shifts. Generally speaking, a shift is where an extra infielder moves to a hitters pull side, so instead of two infielders on the pull side, there are three. Biggio saw a shift against him 75.0% of his plate appearances. Out of 420 qualified hitters, that was the 21st highest shift percentage in all of baseball.
Biggio’s weighted on-base average (wOBA) against a standard alignment was .375, which was well above league average. Against the shift, it was all the way down to .334, which was near league average. With that bit of information, Biggio may need to figure out a way to hit the ball up the middle or to the opposite direction more often.
Launch Angle, Exit Velocity & Barrels, and More
Being an extreme fly ball hitter typically comes with a high launch angle. Biggio’s average launch angle of 20.1-degrees put him near the 95th percentile of the league. The issue with the hitters with high launch angles is they are probably hitting the ball too high. In Biggio’s case, his “sweet spot” percentage confirms that he is hitting the ball with an ideal launch angle consistently. The “sweet spot”, as defined by baseball savant, is “how often he produces a batted-ball event with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees.” Biggio’s 44.2% rate was the best in baseball among hitters with more than 250 plate appearances, edging out Mike Trout by 0.1%.
Taking into account how hard he hit the ball, Biggio was an overall average hitter in terms of exit velocity, barrels, and hard-hit percentage. His average exit velocity (EV) on the year was 88.7-mph, close to league average. His average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives (FBLD EV) was not ideal, sitting at 91.8-mph. He ranked tied for 176 out of 250 eligible hitters. If he wants to increase his BABIP and home run numbers, this must go up.
Biggio’s barrel percentage of 9.0%, and hard-hit rate of 40.1% ranked him above average relative to the rest of the league. It is great he is above-average, but if he continues his pull heavy approach, he needs to be better than above-average to become a fantasy stud.
The only noticeable negative to Biggio’s batted ball profile was his poorly under percentage. At 34.3%, Biggio was towards the bottom of the league in terms of limiting weak fly balls. Even though he is a heavy fly ball hitter, and there is bound to be weak fly balls, he will need to decrease this number going forward.
Final Take on Cavan Biggio
After diving further into Cavan Biggio, the upside is undeniable. If it was not for a poor first half of 2019 that hampered his batting average, he would be a more popular breakout pick. There are plenty of reasons to believe that he does not profile as a sub-.230 hitter. The primary reason for this belief is because he began swinging more. This vastly improved his hit totals. Biggio already had proven that he has a solid eye for the strike zone. As soon as he began swinging at a higher rate, his batting average rose with it.
If he wants to stay towards the top of the Toronto lineup, where he will be hitting in front of a player like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. potentially for years, he will need to continue at that second half pace. I believe it to be highly attainable for him going forward, and I am buying the path to stardom for Biggio. The first thing to look for is a rise in batting average. Expect potential 20/20 power-speed combo for multiple years. And expect a lot of runs from the top of the Blue Jays lineup for Cavan Biggio.
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