James on Biggio, Me on James

     If you don’t mind, please read this very well written essay of Bill James’ in reference to his admiration for Craig Biggio. I came across this essay in a link that was featured on one of Rob Neyer’s latest blogs. And here is the link that will take one directly to it.  A link that will take one directly to it.

     Now Neyer also refers in his blog, to the book Bill rewrote in 2001 entitled "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract." Which is a book that I currently own, and have owned for about a year now. Neyer doesn’t speak much of the book within his blog, but I am going to discuss something that I never really agreed with in the first place, Starting…….Now!

     James obviously does incredible work. I am sure he obsessively researches each subject presented to him, and generally he has some kind of breakthrough or realization that opens everyone’s eyes up. But in his abstract he has a list featured of the top 10 players of the 90’s. Here it is:

          1) Barry Bonds

          2) Craig Biggio

          3) Frank Thomas

          4) Ken Griffey Jr.

          5) Jeff Bagwell

          6) Rafael Palmeiro

          7) Barry Larkin

          8) Roberto Alomar

          9) Mark Mcgwire

        10) Greg Maddux

          This is a small excerpt from the book following James’ ranking:

                "The number two man, Biggio, is closer in value to the number 10 man than he is to Bonds. Biggio passed Bonds as the best player in baseball in 1997."

     Now that last line I am actually a little confused over. Bonds was the best, but did Biggio become better than Bonds in James’ eyes in 97?’ Then all of a sudden Bonds stormed past him following the final two years of the decade? That seems to be what it is implying, unless it is just a typo of some kind. When I originally read this at Barnes and Noble, before I had even bought the book, I disagreed with it. Biggio was a fine player and I can see how he comes out as being even better than everyone originally thought that he was, through the analysis of all the little things he does. But I have a hard time believing that he was a better player than Bonds, Griffey, or Frank Thomas. The rest of the list is debatable. I can see Biggio being better than some of those sluggers that were very good, but not the absolute best in the game. I would also personally have to put Clemens on this list, and maybe another pitcher or two. But that is beside the point right now. Different people value pitchers in different ways.

     If you have read the essay then you read the part where Bill goes into the fact that Biggio never could hit good pitching. All players are going to perform better against weak pitching than that of good pitching. But James describes Biggio’s split as being much larger than other players. Which leads me even more to agreeing with my previous opinion…That he was not better than the three players who I feel were the best of the 1990’s. I personally have to put some added value on a player who could slug five home runs in a single ALDS (Griffey), or the player who ended up being the best ever ***. Or what may have been the best hitter of the 90’s (Thomas). Bonds actually may still have been the best hitter, but I don’t have the ability to view everything from just one decade. Again, not relevant now.

     And I am enamored with the way Biggio did whatever he could to help his team. I am glad that he "overachieved" as James put it. I am also very intrigued knowing that he was so adept at staying away from the double play. Or that he knew how to get on base frequently from being hit by the baseball, or any way imaginable for that matter. But I have been aware for years now how poorly Biggio did play in the postseason. And now I am aware, through Bill James, how difficult it was for Biggio to hit against opposing pitchers who knew what they were doing when standing on the rubber. Craig Biggio will be in the Hall of Fame, but he was not better, in my eyes, then Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., or The Big Hurt. Feel free to think otherwise, but I will not be convinced until someone convinces me.



  1. tswechtenberg@gmail.com

    when i read that article yesterday i was reminded of your fine piece last year on whether biggio should be in the hall of fame. in fact i think i’ll try to find it and re-read it ( what month was that in?)

    i was rather disappointed in the article by james. in fact i found the point of it to be ugly and unnecessary. no need to try to tear down craig biggio in any way. i’m sorry, but i find his sniping to be quite unattractive. i’m afraid he may be turning into a crank. what do you think joe?

    i agree with you on your take on those player rankings, and will not try to convince you other-wise.

  2. Jason

    I think Mike might be on to something in this article. Before I forget, I too agree with your assessment of that period’s players, Joe. I respect James as a statistician, scholar, writer and fan, but what I found odd was James’s admission that he lost his affinity for Biggio when he gained notoriety. This should only have increased for a player who had the gutty, crucial attributes that Biggio certainly did. Instead, James made that snobby decision that so many people do about music, TV shows, sports, fashion, and so much in life, and to me, it’s rooted in the (often subconscious) notion that once things are popular, they’ve lost their elan. Once MANY people think something’s hip, it just isn’t anymore, allegedly.

    After this, James then “discovered” statistically that Biggio was an overachiever. Ah, during his era of affinity for Biggio, this didn’t occur to him, but only when Biggio’s star was on the rise generally, and on the personal decline for James, did he then discover Biggio’s struggled against good pitching.

    It’s a nice, well-written piece with some good tidbits of information. At least he was honest, and maybe the story can be read as an evolution of understanding about a player, and his era. I think I liked your own assessments better, Joe. Remember that need for you to get into a journalism department…


  3. joseph

    Thanks Jason. I still enjoy James a lot. But I don’t have to agree with him in everything he says. But I will still buy his books, and take in most of what he writes.

  4. raoul_oba@hotmail.com

    stat man,
    Are you picking me up at the airport a week from friday(14th)?

    I’m hoping we’ll catch the Reds, Pirates and Yankee games.

  5. tswechtenberg@gmail.com

    hey raoul!! i’m a bit jealous of you getting down to ST!

    hope you had a great winter

  6. raoul_oba@hotmail.com

    I’m doing it on the cheap.
    Fly into Tampa on Fri

    Reds @ RS on Sat

    RS @ Pirates on Sun

    RS @ Yankees on Mon

    Fly out Tues

    Staying at the finest fleabag hotels and eating out of vending machines but, I can see all three games for the price of one Fenway reg season ticket.

  7. tswechtenberg@gmail.com

    well i hope you already have your ticket to legends field. they’re pretty hard to come by

  8. raoul_oba@hotmail.com

    Joe can get me in.
    He’s a prestigous blogger on MLB.com

    I almost hope I can’t get a ticket.

    I want to be there when he says,

    “Do you know who I am?”

    “DO YOU know who I am?”

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