It’s an exciting time to be a Blue Jays fan.
Despite the team being firmly out of contention, the presence of Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (both sons of Hall of Famers) in the lineup provides substantial watchability. Guerrero is known for his 80-grade raw power, an attribute which has already translated to the majors. Biggio, however, is known more for his plate discipline and approach, also something that has already been on display during his first three weeks in the big leagues.
In 77 plate appearances entering Wednesday, Biggio has slashed .222/.364/.492 with five home runs and a 130 wRC+. He’s already drawn 14 walks. Among players with at least 50 plate appearances this season, his 18.2% walk rate ranks fifth. Particularly for a player with no prior big league experience, Biggio’s discipline numbers are impressive.
But we must be careful in touting him. It has only been 77 plate appearances, after all. It is hard to draw any firm conclusions about any player in this small of a sample. That can be the issue with early-season baseball writing. Of course, it’s not early in the season anymore, but it’s still early in Biggio’s season.
That brings me back to the title of this piece. Despite the small sample, is there something that can be learned about Cavan Biggio is as a player, even this early on? I wouldn’t be writing this article if the answer was not a “yes.”
With that said, I point you to Biggio’s underlying plate discipline marks, those that go beyond his walk and strikeout numbers. This is where we can learn more.
The number that pops out here is Biggio’s O-Swing rate. His 11.9% mark is the lowest in baseball. Biggio has swung just 20 times on pitches outside of the strike zone, and even among those, he was rarely fooled. Twelve of the 20 swings fell into what is known as the shadow of the strike zone.
You get the point. Biggio has done an excellent job at recognizing which pitches are in the strike zone. Even after 77 plate appearances, we can begin to draw real conclusions as to what this might mean for his discipline going forward.
I ran a quick study to evaluate sustainability in O-Swing rate, using data from 2018. Since Biggio has played in the majors for about three full weeks, I gathered a list of the qualified hitters exactly three weeks into the season and compared that to the list of qualified hitters at the end of the season. I removed the names that did not appear on both lists, leaving me with a sample of 115. I then compared their three-week O-Swing rate to their full season O-Swing rate, and this was the resulting scatterplot:
There’s a pretty strong correlation (r = 0.79) between O-Swing% after three weeks and full season O-Swing%. Our line of best fit doesn’t explain all of the variation in full season O-Swing%, but it does a pretty good job. If we use this regression equation to predict Biggio’s full-season O-Swing%, we would expect him to swing at just 19.4% of pitches outside of the strike zone. That would rank seventh in baseball among qualified hitters. That’s incredible. Even a mean projection for Biggio’s O-Swing% puts him in the top-10 in baseball in the statistic.
So far, we have only only looked at one minute piece of Biggio’s game. Heck, we’ve only considered one minute piece of Biggio’s plate discipline. There is plenty more to break down here.
Take a glance back up at the chart. A second interesting attribute of Biggio is his overall passivity. Biggio has swung at just 33.3% of all pitches he’s seen. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, that would be the lowest rate in baseball. Among hitters with at least 50 trips to the plate, it ranks fifth-lowest. Biggio doesn’t just like to avoid swinging at bad pitches, he also likes to avoid swinging at all pitches.
Like with O-Swing%, Swing% stabilizes fairly quickly, though there is slightly more noise (r = 0.61). But, generally speaking, a guy who is this passive will remain this passive in a larger sample. Passivity isn’t necessarily the mark of a good hitter. There is only a slight negative correlation between Swing% and wOBA (r = -0.22). Some of baseball’s best hitters are nearly as passive as Biggio. Mike Trout (34.9% swing rate), Mookie Betts (35.4%), and Alex Bregman (35.9%) all rank in the bottom 10 in Swing%, but so do David Fletcher (35.9%) and Brett Gardner (36.9%).
With this in mind, I wanted to find a hitter who had comparable plate discipline figures to Biggio. In a less-than-scientific method, I took a look at every qualified hitter who had an O-Swing% within 10 points of Biggio. Then I further whittled down the list by looking at hitters who had a Z-Swing% and a Swing% within 5 points of Biggio. That left me with two “comparable” options: Tommy Pham and Bregman.
This is more good news for Biggio. Both Bregman (17.1% walk rate) and Pham (14.4%) are among the best in baseball in drawing walks, and as a result, they each have an on-base percentage that ranks in the top-10 in the sport. In terms of total offensive contributions, both Bregman (152 wRC+) and Pham (141) are elite hitters, though that has more to do with factors beyond discipline alone.
Biggio might only have 77 trips to the plate, but that can’t stop us from drawing some early conclusions. There is already one thing we can say for certain: Biggio has an incredible eye, and if history tells us anything, he may be able to parlay that skill into becoming a successful big league hitter.
Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.