Jays From the Couch looks into Blue Jays’ pitcher, Joe Biagini’s, numbers and finds that he was a solid starter who experienced bad luck
For most of August, Joe Biagini has been pitching as a starter for the AAA Buffalo Bisons. His four starts went reasonably well, with a 3.12 ERA driven by his usual combo of lots of groundballs (59.6% of batted balls) and an average strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.33). The point of his trip to Buffalo seems to be to give him a chance to sort himself out, away from the spotlight, before eventually being reinserted into the Blue Jays starting rotation.
While this is definitely a useful move, I think that Joe’s time as a starter this season was more than enough evidence that he can be a very effective major leaguer. It’s not necessarily apparent in some of his stats due to what looks like a bit of bad luck on his part. That bad luck is likely a mix of batted balls finding holes, the Jays’ weak team defence making those holes bigger and Joe’s own poor defensive showing (-5 DRS as a SP and RP this season).
In his limited action as a starter (54.2 IP), Joe ranks 54th in WAR/GS (0.09 wins above replacement per game started). That places him in the second-tier of starting pitchers this season, alongside Jake Arrieta (0.10 WAR/GS), J.A. Happ (0.09) and Rick Porcello (0.08). Similarly, he ranks in the Top 50 in FIP, xFIP, xwOBA and xBA. This suggests that, independent of his team’s fielding (his own included), he has produced as a starter.
Unfortunately for Joe, what happens after he delivers his pitch is just as important as the quality of the pitch itself. Batters are getting on base at an above average rate (.312 BABIP). Notably, he has the lowest LOB% (left on base percentage) among all starters with 50+ IP—in fact, he has the 4th lowest LOB% in the 2000s (among 910 starters with 50+ IP in a season). Both the league average and Joe’s career LOB% as a reliever are 72%. So basically, whereas we’d expect him to give up a run for every four baserunners, he has been giving up nearly two runs this season as a starter.
With a bit of regression to the mean in his LOB%, the chasm between his ERA and FIP (3rd highest in the majors) will likely narrow. Statcast data corroborates this story very well. He has given up far more quality hits (and hits in general) than we would expect given the quality of contact his pitches have generated. Interestingly though, he hasn’t been particularly unlucky when it comes to balls leaving the park, with a slightly below league average (13.8%) home run-to-fly ball ratio.
Joe has used an approach that is similar to his teammate Marcus Stroman, keeping his pitches in the bottom part of the strike zone. Joe and Marcus each throw at least half of their pitches below the middle of the zone. Pitch-wise, they are a little different. Joe uses a four-seamer half the time, a curveball a quarter of the time and a cutter and changeup as tertiary pitches. Marcus uses his sinker more than half the time, a slider about 20% of the time and a curveball, cutter and changeup as tertiary pitches.
The abundance of low pitches results in exceptionally high groundball rates, with each ranking in the Top 10. They’ve also excelled at limiting barrels, the worst possible batted ball outcome for a pitcher, and limiting homers, the worst possible PA outcome for a pitcher. They both generate strikeouts at a slightly worse than average rate (20.4%) and limit walks at a slightly better than average rate (8.2%). Joe does have an edge this season in the quality of contact he allows, ranking in the Top 10 at xwOBA and xBA on batted balls. Nevertheless, Marcus is better than average at both.
If it wasn’t for some bad luck and bad defence, Joe Biagini probably wouldn’t have been sent to the minors this month. He has very solid peripherals, suggesting that his next 50 IP will produce much more positive results than his first 50 IP did. He generates grounders at an elite rate, as he had coming out of the bullpen. He has shown a fundamental proficiency at limiting long balls and the barrels that produce them. Plus, he’s no slouch at generating strikeouts and limiting walks. He has all the tools needed to be an above average innings-eating starter, just like Marcus Stroman.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.