By virtue of being a professional athlete, you’re going to experience struggles with performance at some point in your career. Some athletes handle this better than others. Similarly, there’s a sect of athletics that are following in the footsteps of a parent. This is a labor in itself and comes with its own sort of turmoil, with some also managing the additional expectations more gracefully than others might. We’ve seen children of professional athletes absolutely thrive at the highest level while some flame out rather quickly and disappear off the national stage.
This is what makes the Toronto Blue Jays such an interesting case study. The Blue Jays play in the American League East, certainly a gauntlet among the various divisions throughout Major League Baseball. But their electric offense keeps them in the mix, highlighted predominantly by their three legacy players: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio. Fair or not, the trio will always be linked as second-generation talents reaching the sport’s top-level at virtually the same time.
And yet, while that link exists, the similarities between the three do not. Three different players with three different skill sets at varying levels of success to date. On the one hand, you have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He’s the frontrunner for AL MVP and has a shot at the Triple Crown, as he sits at or near the top of the league in virtually everything, hitting 99th percentiles all over and featuring a wRC+ over 200 (while walking at the same rate at which he’s striking out). Then you’ve got Bo Bichette: a free swinger who makes hard contact at an elite rate and showcases enough power to compensate for the whiff in his game while hacking with some of the league’s most aesthetically pleasing mechanics.
That takes us to Cavan Biggio. While his legacy counterparts in Toronto are thriving in the most noticeable way possible, the son of the former Houston Astros second baseman has not experienced the same success really at any point.
By wRC+ alone, Biggio has been a below-average offensive player this season coming in at 96 there. He’s striking out almost 30 percent of the time (29.2), with a slash that goes .225/.331/.380/.712 (as of this writing). His numbers could be worse yet, with a .303 BABIP against an xBA of just .209 that could largely be attributed to a lack of hard contact against a high rate of flyballs. Biggio sits in just the 15th percentile in HardHit% (33.7) and just the 28th in Barrel% (6.3) while putting the ball in the air almost 40 percent of the time. Additionally, while he’ll likely never generate the power of the likes of Vlad Jr. or Bichette, his .155 ISO is also a fairly notable drop from his previous career marks.
This leaves us wondering what Biggio is fulfilling and where he still has to get back on track to realize his potential and “catch back up” with his young legacy teammates, in a relative sense.
This is from MLB.com’s scouting report on Biggio back in 2018:
Biggio’s offensive game is built around his plus plate discipline and approach, as he’s long showed a knack for drawing walks and getting on base at a high clip. He has natural hitting ability from the left side of the plate, with feel for the barrel that encourages his use of the entire field, albeit with some swing-and-miss tendencies.
If there’s one thing at which Biggio is succeeding, it’s in his approach. His walk rate sits at 13.1 percent, not too far off of his 15.5 percent career average, which sits up in the 87th percentile. He’s also fairly adept at avoiding swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone, with a Chase% in the 88th percentile (20.1 percent). At the same time, this comes with the caveat that Biggio is A. Swinging at a higher rate of pitches outside of the strike zone than previously in his career and B. Featuring a lower overall contact rate than has typically been expected of him.
While it’s still reasonable in the grand scheme of things, it’s definitely uncharacteristic. Devan Fink wrote a good piece concerning this at FanGraphs back in 2019—where we saw Biggio for 100 games—extrapolating his Swing% on pitches outside of the strike zone across a full season. He maintained that in 2019 and his first “full” season in 2020, but has seen a regression there, going from an O-Swing% of 16.3 in 2020 to 23.0 thus far in 2021. Could this be a blip? Sure. His history shows us that it likely should be. But considering what Biggio’s skillset generally is in the Toronto lineup, it’s something that will need to be rectified to for him to showcase the necessary growth.
More concerning, though, is the fact that the increase in O-Swing% has really elevated the swing-and-miss in Biggio’s game. While he’s been able to compensate relatively well in his two prior seasons at the big league level, the increase in Chase% has led to his largest Whiff% (11.2) to date, while his Contact% has fallen from 78.3 in 2020 to 72.9 in 2021.
To get back, at least briefly, to a positive is the hit-to-all-fields element of his game mentioned in that scouting excerpt. After oppo rates of 18.0 and 22.0 percent in his first two turns with Toronto, that figure has shot up to 28.4 in 2021. This certainly helps:
He’s covering the plate fairly well and realizing that all-fields potential more so than he has in the past. But has that come at the expense of some of the other elements of his game? Especially when you consider the fact that Biggio is making hard contact at a rate of only 14.3 percent on that opposite-field contact. When he pulls the ball, hard contact comes at a rate just shy of 43. In both 2019 and 2020, that heatmap is far more concentrated on the inner portion of the strike zone, so it may possibly behoove Biggio to revert to that in order to generate more hard contact. Even more so considering that his whiffs have been extremely minimal on those inner portions, and continue to be so even with a higher overall rate in 2021.
Maybe that’s a step in the right direction. Perhaps by enhancing his swing and subsequent contact rates on the inner portion of the strike zone he can cut down on whiffs, increase his hard contact, provide just a little more power, and, ultimately, end up back on the trajectory on which he once found himself.
Even if that path isn’t necessarily one on a level of superstardom equal to the likes of Guerrero Jr. or Bichette, it’s one that still presents a wildly important piece for Toronto. Strong on-base skills combined with his speed and occasional power can be an obnoxious presence when you’ve got some of the other offensive stalwarts to reinforce the damage you can help to spark. That’s what Cavan Biggio is. Or at least what he can be. He’s a cog. He’s not the catalyst, but he can carve out a niche role for himself in the Blue Jays lineup and, in turn, establish a legacy for himself even against the pair of generational talents that with which he will always be juxtaposed.
Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandyHolt42.