We don’t talk enough about how good a season Cavan Biggio is having.
Seriously, did you know that under Baseball Reference’s formula for Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, the 24-year-old was second on the Toronto Blue Jays at 2.2 before Tuesday’s play, tied with Ken Giles and behind only the traded Marcus Stroman’s 3.2? Or did you realize that among players with a minimum of 350 plate appearances in the majors, only Logan Forsythe at 15.3 per cent has a lower chase rate than Biggio’s 15.7 per cent? Or that he leads the Blue Jays in stolen bases with 13, the only player in the majors in double digits without being caught once?
So while he may not be setting the world afire like Bo Bichette has since his late July promotion, nor does he have the awe-inspiring ability and conviviality of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Biggio is proving to be a really solid player, the type of multi-faceted, contributes-in-many-ways guy winning teams usually have.
Becoming just the third player in Blue Jays’ history to hit for the cycle – Kelly Gruber in 1989 and Jeff Frye in 2001 were the others – in Tuesday’s night 8-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles offered a case in point, accentuating Biggio’s recent surge at the plate.
He hit a two-run homer in the third, singled and stole second in the sixth, doubled, stole third and scored the tying run in the eighth, then tripled to push home a pair of insurance runs in the ninth after Justin Smoak hit a go-ahead home run.
The multi-hit outing was his fourth in the past five games and pushed his numbers since Aug. 27 up to 19-for-52 with four homers, five doubles, two triples, 11 RBIs, 14 walks and 17 strikeouts.
Biggio’s hot streak coincides with a conscious effort to become more aggressive in the strike zone, as his elite plate discipline had led him to some passivity at the plate.
For context, at 35.6 per cent, Biggio has the fourth-lowest swing percentage among players with at least 350 plate appearances, just behind Alex Bregman’s 35.4 per cent. That’s good, but the Blue Jays felt he some of his takes were counterproductive, as he was letting some good pitches to hit go by.
For pitches considered to be over the heart of the plate, his swing rate was 71 per cent, just slightly off the league average of 73 per cent. But 42 per cent of the 433 pitches he’d seen there were four-seam fastballs and his batting average against those pitches was just .213.
For pitches on the shadow, or outer quarters of the plate, his swing rate was down to 35 per cent, compared to the league average of 53. Of the 687 pitches he’d seen there, 37.7 per cent were four-seamers and he was batting .189 against them.
The Orioles had clearly noticed that in their scouting, as 13 of the 22 pitches they threw to Biggio were four-seamers. But with his new approach, he was more than ready as the homer, double and triple all came off four-seamers. The single was on a sinker.
The cycle made Biggio and his dad Craig (April 8, 2002) only the second father-son duo in big-league history to each hit for the cycle, joining Gary and Daryle Ward.
They’re No. 2!
The Philadelphia Athletics’ record of 24 starters used in 1915 is probably safe, but in sending Ryan Tepera out for the first inning Tuesday night, the Blue Jays took sole possession of second place with 21. Tepera’s first career start after 210 relief appearances moved the club past the 1967 New York Mets, 1890 Pittsburgh Alleghenys and the 1884 Kansas City Unions. Savour the moment, Blue Jays fans. Tepera transitioned to the bullpen near the end of the 2013 season, while he was still at double-A. Save for a pair of rehab outings this year, he hadn’t started since. This one didn’t go to plan, as he issued a one-out walk to Dwight Smith Jr., before Trey Mancini hammered a four-seam fastball over the wall in right-centre. Tepera had Mancini 0-2, but couldn’t finish him off, following that up with three straight balls, two pitches fouled off, and then the homer.
The featured arm
Trent Thornton entered as the featured or bulk pitcher behind an opener for the second consecutive outing and once again shoved, allowing a run on three hits and a walk with four strikeouts over five innings. Last time out, he threw five hitless innings with seven strikeouts against the Boston Red Sox as the rookie right-hander looks to finish out an up-and-down season strong.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., committed one of baseball’s cardinal sins in the top of the third inning when he was thrown out at third base for the final out of the inning. That’s bad, but worse is that Gurriel also seemed to lose track of how many outs in the inning, not running immediately after Guerrero Jr., hit a soft popper to centre field, and then taking off when it looked like the ball would fall in, which it did for a single. But centre-fielder Mason Williams quickly picked the ball up and capitalized on Gurriel’s mental mistake, firing the ball to Rio Ruiz at third base, and he dove to the bag to get the out. To be fair, Gurriel still isn’t 100 per cent after returning from a quad injury – he clearly isn’t running at full speed – but had he broken immediately upon contact, the play at third base wouldn’t have been close.