JFtC spoke with Blue Jays pitcher, Joe Biagini about his role with the team and more
At Blue Jays WinterFest, I had the opportunity to talk to Blue Jays pitcher Joe Biagini. Biagini has developed a reputation as a good interview in his time with the Blue Jays, something that shone through during his media availability at WinterFest. He chatted with us about his entrance music (Tears of a Clown), his love of Seinfeld and his dabbling with Curb Your Enthusiasm, while finding opportunities to make a joke in response to just about every question he was asked.
As Hayden Godfrey elaborated on, in his own post on our chat with Joe, there is nothing but authenticity in Joe Biagini. He cherishes the fact that people even want to interview him and that a simple encounter with a fan might stay with them forever. In this regard (and others), Biagini is a great role model for professional athletes everywhere.
My primary area of interest with Biagini was his evolving role with the Blue Jays since he arrived in 2016. In his rookie season, Biagini was a phenomenal reliever, probably a lot more effective than even most Jays fans remember. He ranked among the league leaders in terms of fWAR (1.2, 34th among all MLB relievers) and FIP (2.95, 30th-best among qualified MLB relievers and tops in the Blue Jays bullpen). These results weren’t smoke and mirrors, with his strong xwOBA (.282) highlighting his genuine ability to generate weak contact. He also stood out among first-year players, ranking eighth among rookie relievers and 39th among all rookies in terms of fWAR.
Biagini started the 2017 season in the bullpen, making 14 appearances (18.2 IP) through May 3rd. He was even more effective during this stretch than he was in 2016, running a 2.84 FIP on the back of a better-than-average strikeout rate (23.9%), walk rate (4.2%) and home run rate (0.48 HR/9). His xwOBA was a pristine .249.
At that point, injuries to multiple starters led the team to move him from the bullpen to the rotation, which began a stretch of one year (May 7th, 2017 to May 8th, 2018) in which he was used alternately as a starter and reliever.
His time as a starter caught my attention in a few ways. In August 2017, I discussed the extremely bad luck he appeared to have dealt with, evidenced by a league-low strand rate and massive gaps between his 1) ERA and FIP and 2) wOBA and xwOBA. During the ensuing off-season, I dug into his performance with runners in scoring position, finding that he was very effective with the bases empty but saw much worse results with RISP.
While I was optimistic that he could produce better results in the rotation in 2018, he struggled through four MLB starts in April and May (5.63 FIP, 14.4% K rate, 10% BB rate, 1.45 HR/9), after which Biagini was moved back to the bullpen, where he remained through the end of the season. Unfortunately, he even struggled as a full-time reliever, running a 5.41 FIP in the role during 2018.
With one exceptional season and two tumultuous ones in his recent past, I was curious if Biagini could shed light on his thoughts about the different roles he has played—reliever, starter and swingman. He obliged: “I think it’s tough to have different roles, but I think that every role is tough. I think that every part of it is tough because, for example, a starter, you have to just be so consistent and throw so many quality innings. Being a reliever and being ready to pitch every day, throughout a season and going at any moment is tough. And going back and forth is hard because it’s a struggle to find that consistency.”
In explaining how he felt about his struggles over the last two seasons, his humility and quality as a teammate shone through: “I was disappointed…I felt like I could have handled that better…The frustrating thing is you want to do well for this team, you want to make them look good for giving you this opportunity.”
That said, it’s clear he’s a positive thinker and optimistic about his future: “It was also a great opportunity to learn. And it was one of those things where I’m very grateful to still be in the mix and getting opportunities even coming through that. Probably most of it is because of the success I had in the bullpen. [My 2019] role, whatever it’s going to be defined for me as, it’s important for me to capitalize on that opportunity, where I can just focus on one specific thing and perfect that and be really good at that role.”
Reflecting on his rookie season as a reliever: “I feel like I really got thrown into the bullpen for that full season after being a starter in the minor leagues and having those experiences of just being like ‘I just have to focus on these simple things, get ready for today’ and it really challenged me to grow into that role. Sometimes, I actually surprised myself at how I was able to do that and I’m looking forward to another opportunity to get back to that.”
In that vein, while he is happy to be a major league pitcher in any capacity, I get the sense that he knows he succeeded as a reliever in 2016 and is looking forward to a 2019 season spent exclusively in that role. When I asked him directly if that was, indeed, going to be his role this coming season, he did what he does best, answering my question honestly and humorously: “Well, Ross just walked by a few minutes ago if you want to talk to him or, maybe, Charlie. I don’t know. I’m kind of assuming that but I’m also just kind of open for whatever. But, again, even if it was like ‘Hey, you’re gonna be the swing guy again’, it’s another great opportunity, so you can’t really complain about that. It would be a fun opportunity to continue to improve [as a swingman], but it would also be fun to take one specific opportunity and be like ‘Okay, I think I can do this well, I have confidence in it and I’m gonna stick with that.'”
Over three big league seasons, Joe Biagini has made 22 starts and 132 relief appearances. While the last couple of seasons haven’t gone as planned, his body of work still looks like that of a “major league pitcher”—over the last three seasons, the average AL pitcher produced a 4.29 FIP. Biagini has a career MLB FIP of 4.26.
His struggles in 2017 and 2018 shouldn’t erase the fact that he was an elite reliever in 2016 and is a top-notch, all-around human being. 2019 is a chance for the team to see who can contribute to the contending teams of the early-2020s, teams that Biagini may absolutely be a part of.
At the very least, he is under team control until 2021, his third year of arbitration eligibility and the first year the Jays will have truly high hopes for contention. However, it appears that he just barely qualified for Super Two status, thanks to his various trips to the minors over the last two seasons, and may actually be under team control until 2022 (take this with a grain of salt, as I may be misunderstanding the details of Super Two status). Either way, I look forward to Biagini getting an opportunity to focus on one role in 2019 and (hopefully) reclaiming his status as a top MLB reliever.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
HEAD ON OVER TO THE JAYS FROM THE COUCH VS ALS STORE AND GET SOME GREAT SWAG THAT YOU WILL LOOK GREAT IN AND YOU CAN FEEL GREAT ABOUT.
YOU CAN ALSO HEAD TO OUR JAYS FROM THE COUCH VS ALS FUNDRAISING PAGE TO MAKE A TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION DIRECTLY TO ALS CANADA.
THANK YOU FOR VISITING JAYS FROM THE COUCH! CHECK US OUT ON TWITTER @JAYSFROMCOUCH AND INSTAGRAM. LIKE US FACEBOOK. BE SURE TO CATCH THE LATEST FROM JAYS FROM THE COUCH RADIO
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.