While many Hall of Fame candidates are struggling due to the overcrowding of the ballot, Houston Astros great Craig Biggio seems likely to join the ranks in Cooperstown when the dust settles. First eligible in 2013, Biggio tallied 68.2 percent of the vote, falling just short of the 75 percent threshold necessary for election. Biggio was likely harmed by certain voters submitting blank ballots or ballots limited to players outside of the "steroid era" as a form of protest against steroid users, or even those just suspected of such habits. Biggio has about as strong a case as there is for the Hall of Fame, based on both standard statistical milestones as well as advanced analysis, and he's currently polling at above 80 percent per Baseball Think Factory's ballot collector.
Why he's a Hall of Famer
Biggio checks off multiple milestones that have long been seen as keys to Hall of Fame election. He has 3,060 hits (one of only 28 players with 3,000 hits) to go with four Gold Gloves and seven All-Star appearances. He also received votes on MVP ballots in five seasons. He did all of this while manning up-the-middle defensive positions and playing in the offensive mausoleum that was the Astrodome. As we've discussed in other articles, Hall of Fame credentials tend to be based on a combination of career worth and peak worth. Biggio tends to shade more towards sustained excellence rather than a dominant peak, though it would be foolish to ignore his 9.4 WAR season (one of five above 5 WAR in his career) in 1997, though he was only voted fourth on MVP ballots. Still though, he had seven seasons ranging between 2 and 5 WAR and only reached the 3,000 hit plateau thanks to two final seasons that total -1.7 WAR between them.
One of the best things he has going for him though is the complete and utter lack of suspicion of PED usage. In an environment in which his teammate, Jeff Bagwell, who has never tested positive and was never associated with PEDs at the time, is retroactively punished, Biggio's purity stands out. He may gain some votes on the pure fact that he's not associated with performance enhancers as voters seek to moralize and castigate while they can.
If we check in with JAWS, the metric created by Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe, we see that Biggio's career WAR of 64.9 falls short of the average Hall of Fame second baseman's (69.5). Given that Biggio played 13% of his career at catcher and another nine percent in centerfield, it's fair to compare his WAR to some amalgamation of those positions as well. In this instance he fares better but still comes up short, as the up-the-middle positions (catcher, second base, shortstop, center field) have an average WAR of 65.7. If we look at peak WAR the situation remains the same, with Biggio's 41.6 falling a bit below the second base average of 44.5 and just barely under the up-the-middle's 42. His JAWS score - and stay with me here because it gets tricky -- sees the exact same pattern emerge. Biggio's 53.3 is a few ticks behind the average second baseman's 57 and just behind the average up-the-middle's 53.9. Keeping in mind that these are averages for the position, his failure to meet them isn't great, but also means he's very close to the average member of an elite class of player. He might not raise the bar for these positions, but he would seemingly make good company for those already enshrined.
Why writers won't vote for him
The lack of an MVP award is a bit of a sticking point, as is the fact that he never finished higher than fourth in any MVP voting. If it seems a bit of double jeopardy for the same writers who failed to vote him up in an MVP election to then hold that against him, well, welcome to politics, kid. It's also possible some of the writers who are more facile with advances analysis could hold Biggio's defense against him, as he earned negative grades in all of the most popular defensive metrics. Perhaps the most obvious reason not to vote for Biggio though is that they haven't seen this video:
Craig Biggio for the Baseball Hall of Fame Awareness Video (via Lloyd Richey)
Because once you've seen that, it's pretty much an open and shut case.
The crowded ballot, the enemy of so many, is unlikely to faze Biggio. Give his 68.2 percent showing last year, it seems unlikely that anyone would start developing an issue with him now. Still, his status as a "compiler" might well be held against him. It's a bit of a catch-22, of course. If he doesn't hang on for those last two bad years in Houston, he doesn't reach 3,000 hits -- a big point in his favor. But since he did, and wasn't nearly as effective in doing it, the achievement is cheapened. If there doesn't seem like a strong case against Biggio's candidacy though, it's because there isn't. He just seems like a Hall of Famer, and while that's one of the worst forms of reasoning there is, it's very much a present one.
With his strong showing in last year's vote coupled with a few added votes from those who never vote for someone in the first go-round on a ballot, Biggio needs fewer than 40 additional votes to reach the promised land. It'll be very close as to whether he gets there this year, but it's almost assured he gets there within the next few.