In her first post for Jays From the Couch, Daniella Bottero explores the journey of Toronto Blue Jays’ pitcher, Joe Biagini
In order to understand Biagini, we need to peel back the layers of this complex, and at times, misunderstood pitcher.
In the summer of 2015, before his tale began with the Blue Jays, he was a Double-A starting pitcher for the Giants, sporting a 2.42 ERA and a 10-7 record. He successfully pitched through 130 1/3 innings, with only one game appearance out of the bullpen. In December of that year, the Jay’s landscape changed with the acquisition of Biagini who was a Rule 5 Draft selection. He had an impressive 2016 Spring Training, showcasing his curveball and four seam fastball alongside an acceptable ERA of 4.00. His sample sized numbers were sufficient enough to get him on the 2016 Opening Day roster.
It was Management’s decision to utilize him in the bullpen, even though his minor league career groomed him as a starter. That decision turned out to be very beneficial for the Jays as he had surprised the league with his confidence and stamina as a long arm with the ability to keep the batters guessing. That season, he managed to go without allowing a home run until September 3rd, five months after the season started. On any team, in any division that stat alone was impressive, however, to accomplish that in the AL East is quite the feat. During the 2016 season, he finished with a 3.06 ERA while striking out 62 batters in 60 games. His walk to strikeout ratio was also impressive while only allowing 19 batters first base in 67.2 innings pitched.
Now, let’s fast forward to the 2017 season. Due to the ongoing and persistent injuries with the starting rotation, Biagini was now in the position to fill the holes that Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano left. This was a dilemma for manager, John Gibbons. What do you do with a tried and true bullpen arm that had been heavily relied upon as a reliable long reliever? It was always the intention that Biagini would eventually be promoted to a starting role eventually, however, this season had fast tracked those plans.
Unfortunately, the new role may have been a case of “too much, too soon”. In June, he had pitched a total of 26 innings giving up 29 hits and 20 runs with an ERA of 5.88. In July, he had only pitched 18 innings, giving up as many hits as he did runs, 15 in total. His ERA spiked to a dismal 7.50. He was placed back into the pen on July 7th, upon Sanchez’s return. Something, however, was irking Biagini and it became very clear that there was something off. Some analysts blamed his weak cutter, others focused on his delivery but the club maintained its reasoning of stretching him out to get back into the starter role.
Regardless of what was ailing the once reliable pitcher, it was clear the only option was to send him down to the Triple-A affiliate, Buffalo Bisons. Gibbons had tried to make sense of the situation and was quoted saying that “He’s got to be getting ground balls. That’s his game. I think where he’s run into trouble, he’s been up too much.” By August, after holding an ERA of 5.11 over 11 starts and 37 appearances on the mound, Biagini had made his way down to the minors to work on his mechanics, which included re-establishing his full windup.
On August 27th, he was recalled from Triple-A Buffalo to start against the Minnesota Twins, where he allowed nine hits and five earned runs over 3 2/3 innings. Even though he was roughed up on his return, his next start against the Orioles showed glimpses of the Biagini from 2016. He had struck out ten batters and surrendered only five hits over seven scoreless innings. Then the teeter tottering began once again. His next start was all too familiar as he went only 3 1/3 innings and allowing five runs. This continued on, right through September where he’s currently holding a 5.34 ERA.
He had been challenged throughout the season with switching roles, three times in a span of four months. For some Jays fans this story seemed too familiar, reminiscing of the collapse of a once hopeful pitcher, like Ricky Romero who was sent down to the minors and never returned the same. I am hopeful though that it’s just a coincidence, that once the fog lifts he will find his bearings again. When asked about Biagini, Gibbons once said that “he’s got a different personality no doubt about it. But he’s easy to like, easy to get along with, easy to talk to – and he listens. In a lot of ways he’s refreshing.”
There is a story to be told about Biagini, a story that is different and unique in so many ways, much like him. I don’t believe it’s over; in fact I’m sure that it’s just begun.
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