TORONTO – During the final week of spring training, a throw from the outfield deflected off an incoming base-runner and hyperextended Cavan Biggio’s right pinkie.
Once the season started, another ball hammered the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman’s index finger.
Last Thursday in Kansas City, Whit Merrifield’s 93.4 m.p.h. liner glanced off his glove and “knocked out the other two fingers,” on his right hand, Biggio says sheepishly. “Wasn’t a very fun couple of days.”
Certainly not, and the cumulative wear and tear is enough to cause discomfort holding a toothbrush, let alone swinging a baseball bat.
As a left-handed hitter, Biggio’s right hand sits at the bottom of the handle and guides the bat through a swing path.
With pain “just kind of lingering” from the knock on his pinkie in spring training, plus the subsequent incidents in-season, his .146/.281/.313 start to the season is suddenly a bit more understandable.
“Before Kansas City, I was kind of grinding my way to gametime, and usually when the game started, it loosened up, whether it was the adrenaline or just the heat of Florida, being in the sun and stuff (allowing) me to swing like I know how to swing,” says Biggio.
“After that ball hit me in Kansas City, a couple other fingers started to hurt and that’s why you didn’t see me in the lineup (last weekend). I could barely even grip a bat. It did impact my swing path in Kansas City. A couple of those fingers feel a lot better now.
“I’m able to deal with it like I have been and come game time, I don’t really feel like it impacts my swing path or quickness to the ball or anything.”
Either way, it’s all added up to a trying opening month for the 26-year-old, who also happens to be taking a crash course on playing the hot corner – an incredibly tough task at the big-league level – for good measure.
Some erratic play in the field, particularly on throws across the diamond, has only compounded matters.
Whether his banged-up hand is a factor is unclear, but it does offer one potential explanation, even if Biggio isn’t making excuses.
The issues are “going to be there for a little while,” he concedes, but “it’s nothing I haven’t played through before.”
Whether he can get closer to the steadier production he gave the Blue Jays last season, when he batted .250/.375/.432 in 59 games, as he recovers is another matter.
Manager Charlie Montoyo demonstrated his faith in Biggio by flipping him and Marcus Semien in the batting order for Wednesday’s 6-3 win at the Boston Red Sox, and he’ll likely stay in the leadoff spot until George Springer is ready to return.
Biggio arrived in spring training intent on testing out some tweaks to his approach and swing, aimed at getting his bat to more pitches so he could be more aggressive in the zone.
Three weeks in, too negligible a sample size from which to draw definitive conclusions, the results are a mixed bag.
While his exit velocity is up 2.3 m.p.h. to 89.7 m.p.h., his whiffs are up, too, from 23 per cent to 33.3 per cent.
His swing percentage has gone up from 36.3 per cent to 42.9 per cent, and it’s largely pitches out of the zone that have accounted for it, as his chase rate has gone from a big-league best 13.7 per cent to 24.4 per cent.
Again, the hand may be a factor, but Biggio concedes that he’s been “a little bit too aggressive and coming out of my approach” early on and “recently, kind of come back to towards who I am.”
“I’ve been seeing the ball a whole lot better and feeling a lot more on time,” he adds. “I’ve just got to stick with the process and not chase results right now.”
Underlining that point is a look at his swing/take profile.
He’s still attacking pitches in the heart of the plate at the same rate, but has gone from swinging at 39 per cent of the offerings in the shadow of plate – borderline pitches just inside and outside the zone – to 51 per cent. On chase pitches, he’s gone from seven per cent and 14 per cent, as well, and avoiding those pitches is where he’s created a lot of run value.
Cavan Biggio’s strike zone in 2020 and 2021. Credit: Baseball Savant
“That’s what pitchers try to do, they try to get you to chase that pitch down, that pitch up, that pitch you can’t hit,” says Biggio, who believes his swing is better now than it’s been in previous seasons.
“I feel like I can hit more pitches now. I was just coming out of myself a little bit early on in the season. I was a little uncomfortable at the plate.”
A desire to punish pitchers who would steal early-count strikes because of his perceived passivity last year makes sense. He needs to counter the adjustments the league has made to him.
But there are fine lines for Biggio to tread on several fronts, between being aggressive and anxious, and chasing more power at the expense of contact.
“I don’t like swinging and missing, no one really does, so certainly when I hit it, I want to hit it hard,” he says. “I’m a player that makes a lot of adjustments, especially from season to season. My main focus every season is how can I hit more balls hard and more balls overall. I do like that I’m hitting the ball harder.
“But I obviously want to put more balls in play, especially with two strikes. That was my main focus coming in here, spring training, working on that. But as I keep saying, I like where I’m at right now.”
There were signs of why Wednesday night against the Red Sox, when he walked twice, scored a run and delivered a run-scoring groundout in five plate appearances, all while seeing a season-high 27 pitches. That’s ideal in front of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The Blue Jays will be looking for plenty more of that from Biggio on Friday night when they begin a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, and from wherever he ends up in the batting order once Springer returns, too.