Last week I wanted to discuss the chance that Kyle Gibson becomes fantasy relevant in 2018 despite going undrafted everywhere and destined for your waiver wire. In the same light, it’s time to talk about Joe Biagini, the Toronto Blue Jays arm that seems oh-so-close to becoming a stable choice across the board.
I’m going to be frank with you, this is probably not going to work out. Jaime Garcia recently signed with the Jays, looking like the clear option to take the #5 spot in the rotation out of camp. Biagini sported a 5.73 ERA and 1.48 WHIP across 88 innings as a starter in 2017. The Blue Jays infield defense is questionable, to say the least. His cutter is a terrible pitch.
But that isn’t why we’re here. I’ll go a little more into those flaws a bit later, and for now, let’s shift to focusing on what Biagini does have going for him. The best way to do that is to show off his repertoire, which will start with a quick table showcasing his arsenal:
|Pitch Type||Thrown %||Velocity||GB %||Zone %||Whiff %||pVal|
I’ll talk about each pitch in here on its own, but indulge me for a moment first. I have a general blueprint of effectiveness when it comes to crafting arsenals for starting pitchers, and it’s pretty straightforward.
- Have a fastball/cutter that you can trust getting strikes
- Have a secondary pitch that you can trust getting strikes
- Have a secondary pitch that you can trust to miss bats
It’s very basic and not a one-size-fits-all, but you’ll quickly find that the pitchers that struggle most fail to tick all three boxes here across their repertoires. It could be that their fastball is the only pitch above a 40% zone rate and suddenly their walk rate is north of 8.5%, or they lack a pitch above a 15% whiff rate leading to a sub 20% strikeout clip. Or maybe they are purely two-pitch and they get hit much harder than you’d think with their stuff, especially the third time through a lineup. Again, there are always exceptions, but it sets a nice framework to see if someone could rise out of the shadows to be overall effective.
What you may have gathered is that Biagini checks all the boxes. All of them. And it’s time to show how they work.
I’ll be taking GIFs from Biagini’s best outing of the year as he went to Baltimore, carving up seven shutout innings and adding ten strikeouts to his name. This is partly because I wanted to showcase what prime Biagini looks like, partly because Baltimore has one of the best camera angles out there.
As mentioned before, Biagini’s fastball gets a surprising amount of grounders for a four-seamer and one quick look at the pitch explains everything:
It’s technically a four-seamer, but this offering has as much life as many others’ two-seamer, riding and diving constantly. When he’s struggling with the pitch, it’s floating higher in the zone than he likes, but you don’t need me to tell you that when Biagini is locked in his with his heater, he’s really difficult to barrel up. Here’s another example and it astounds me. How are you supposed to do anything with this pitch?
I’m playing a game of “best-case scenario” while exploring Biagini’s upside and imagining a 55% zone rate with velocity that touches 95+ and this much movement sets a wonderful bedrock for his secondary pitches to build upon.
We’ve checked the first box off with Biagini’s heater and now we need a pitch to complement it when he needs to keep batters off-balance. Enter a hook with a drop bigger than any dubstep track:
Terrible joke aside, Tim Beckham could only watch as the ball dove over the plate, stealing a first-pitch strike and put Beckham quickly on the defensive. Biagini does a great job of locating the pitch in the lower half of the zone, making it no surprise that it induced close to 60% grounders in 2017. And don’t let its low 10.4% whiff rate fool you into thinking this was just a mix-up pitch. The curveball carried a solid 40.0% strikeout rate as batters often let the ball fall over the plate for a punchout, electing to swing at just 36.2% of Biagini’s deuces.
So we have a pitch that induces groundballs, finds the zone often, and makes batters struggle to pull the trigger that leads to plenty of called strikes. Check.
With Biagini’s pair of pitches to rely on for getting strikes, we need one that can miss bats frequently. Maybe this changeup will do the trick?
Yep, that’ll work. Biagini earned 17.7% whiffs with his slow ball last year, riding the effect of having the pitch look identical to his heater out of his hand, then featuring exaggerated movement on both planes while carrying a seven mph difference in velocity.
When it comes to changeup mastery, there’s one element I love to see: throwing the pitch with confidence against same-armed batters. It’s common theory to feature changeups away as a right-hander facing a lefty, but seeing a pitcher trust his slow ball regardless of the handedness of the batter tells plenty not only in his ability but his confidence.
Biagini did just to Trey Mancini in two separate at-bats, each changeup with vicious movement to induce a big whiff:
It’s the final piece of the puzzle, and carries the upside Bigini needs to provide strikeout production. In a best-case scenario, Biagini is boasting a 20%+ whiff rate on changeups, trusting it closer to 20% of the time, if not higher. I don’t see this as being that far off.
So then there’s this pitch. The cutter that ruins everything. Despite just throwing it 11.0% of the time and only 201 total, Biagini’s cutter still recorded a horrible -5.1 pVal. Batters held a .222 ISO against it with a .375 wOBA, it got whiffs under 5.0% of the time – the numbers are atrocious. There’s no hiding that this pitch was detrimental to Biagini’s 2017 campaign.
But I can see why he used it as frequently as he did. Check out this offering to Jonathan Schoop that fell off the outside corner:
That’s exactly how this pitch is supposed to work. Biagini wants to feature cutters and four-seamers that start on the outside corner, then mix-and-match which pitch will curl over the plate (four-seamer) and which will bend away (cutter). It should work in theory against right-handers, while he can keep this cutter location consistent to left-handers, acting as a pitch to jam them while leaning over the plate expecting a four-seamer or changeup away.
The problem here is rooted in consistency. For every cutter that looked like the one above, there were two that looked like this:
That second one actually induced a decent result but it replicated the other example in lack of movement. Floating up in the zone is not what Biagini wants to do with the pitch and it all comes down to execution.
With the three-pitch mix Biagini already features, is it necessary to keep this offering? I’m inclined to think he can shelve it unless he develops more consistency during spring training (Note: As I’m editing this, Biagini struck out Maikel Franco with the pitch down-and-away off the plate. Terrible camera angle but it seemed to act more like a slider than the cutter featured here.), and since this is a “best-case” piece, using this as a surprise offering to right-handers for a strikeout off the plate or to jam left-handers could be another weapon down the road. In a “best-case-but-let’s-be-somewhat-realistic” scenario, I think axing the pitch entirely is the right course of action.
There’s no reason to chase Biagini in shallow leagues in your drafts. There’s plenty of risk as Biagini was far from consistent last year, nor is his future clear as the Jays discuss minor leagues, or even being slatted full-time in the bullpen. Still, keep an eye on him through the spring and early in the year. He has the repertoire already developed that could return value in deeper leagues and even your 12-teamer if given the proper stage. He’s a groundball machine with a pair of pitches he trusts for strikes. There’s plenty of whiffability in his changeup, and who knows, maybe his cutter turns it around, becoming more of a slider and acting as a pure chase pitch. This isn’t your typical Quad-A starter. There’s more upside in Biagini than you think.
With the Jays rotation sporting blister-prone Aaron Sanchez and big injury risks in J.A. Happ and Jaime Garcia, it’s not out of the question Biagini gets a spotlight sooner than later. Don’t ignore him when it happens.