The insertion of Joe “Four Pitches” Biagini into the rotation has allowed the Toronto Blue Jays to weather recent injuries to Aaron “9.5 Fingernails” Sanchez, J.A. “The Milk Bag Man” Happ, and Francisco “Not Drew Hutchison” Liriano
The first rule of the Rule 5 draft? Protect your assets.
The second rule of the Rule 5 draft? Claim your competitor’s unprotected assets.
(The full-abbreviated story is that the San Francisco Giants left Biagini exposed in the 2015 Rule 5 draft. Toronto, seeing potential in the 6-5 right-hander, complied by making him their only pick in the draft.)
How impressive has Biagini’s run been with the Blue Jays since joining the team out of spring training in 2016? Under the (other) rules of the Rule 5 draft, the Blue Jays would have to keep Biagini on their major league roster for the entirety of the 2016 season or return him to the Giants for $25,000 (the Blue Jays paid the Giants $50,000 for his rights). This little wrinkle in the rules – to my knowledge anyway – never really came up in discussions about Biagini’s place on the team: he quickly established his presence in the bullpen.
It certainly helped that Biagini didn’t surrender his first home run of the season until Sept. 3 – a stretch of 49 clean appearances – but it also helped that Biagini has naturally good stuff. On the season, he went 4-3 with a 3.06 ERA and 1.300 WHIP in 67.2 IP. If you remember how some of the other bullpen arms pitched in 2016 – Drew Storen, Jesse Chavez, Scott Feldman – it isn’t hard to figure out why Biagini almost immediately became one of manager, John Gibbons‘, go-to options in close games.
Biagini’s real-world performance in 2016 only tells part of the story, however. Blue Jays broadcasters Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler (among others) were always quick to remind fans that “Joe has four pitches” and “He’s only ever been a starter in his career.” What the talking heads were constantly reminding us, in other words, was that should the opportunity present itself, we would be even more impressed with Biagini as a starter. It was this potential that told the rest of the story.
Fast-forward to the 2017 season and that’s essentially where we find ourselves now. After beginning the season in the bullpen, overlapping injuries to Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano pushed Biagini into the rotation at the start of May. Would those four pitches hold up? Did it matter that Biagini hadn’t started a game since 2015?
No, Biagini delivered as advertised.
Although the sample size is small, Biagini’s young career as a major league starter reflects his almost as young career as a major league reliever: the guy is good. With nine innings under his belt and one win notched into his belt, Biagini has once again provided the Blue Jays with high-quality pitching as a time when anything remotely average would have sufficed. He’s pitched longer into each game and has looked more comfortable out there each time as well, and with another two or three starts likely to come his way, Biagini has a legitimate opportunity to extend his value on the team and show off his stuff.
I wouldn’t bet on Biagini remaining in the rotation for the rest of the season – Liriano was brought here last season to fill out the rotation and moving him to the bullpen would leave the Blue Jays with only one left-handed starter (Happ) in the rotation – but after this season, all bets are off. What Biagini has done so far this season is demonstrate that the Blue Jays do have some starting depth after all and that the future of the rotation, potentially anchored by Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Biagini, looks downright filthy. Look out, American League.
This brings us to the third rule of the Rule 5 draft: pray that it all works out.
*FEATURED IMAGE CREDIT: Keith Allison- cropped from original UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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