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Bidge vs. Burke: This Time It's Serious

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Every time I go over to The Chronicle to read JJO's blog or Bailey's blog, I'm assaulted with the somewhat repetitious mad ramblings of fans convinced that Biggio is, in his selfish quest for 3,000 hits, dooming the 2007 club to failure.

And these views frankly have me puzzled. Now, I understand that Craig, by playing in 2007, is keeping Chris Burke from playing his natural position. That I get. And I understand that even Burke's average defensive skills are superior to what Biggio brings to the dish these days. But what's less clear to me is the assumption by these irate fans that Burke is easily, or by far, the better offensive player.

I might cede Burke the advantage, but is it all that large? Is it a difference that makes any difference? Could it possibly ruin our season?

Let's start at the beginning, a very fine place to start.

In 2006, Craig Biggio put up an AVG-OBP-SLG-OPS line of .246/.306/.422/.728, and Chris Burke put up a line of .276/.347/.418/.765.

And what it seems we can draw from that is that at this point in their careers, Chris Burke is 1) a better hitter than Craig Biggio and that 2) Chris Burke reaches base more often than Craig Biggio. The assumptions can be backed up by looking at each player's pre- and post-All Star game splits:

Biggio First Half .280 .345 .439 .784
Burke First Half .298 .376 .483 .859
Biggio Second Half .201 .251 .397 .648
Burke Second Half .255 .319 .356 .675

Lost in the cacophony about Biggio's second half slumps is the fact that Burke tumbled pretty badly in the second half of '06, too. But yes, in both halves, Burke outhit Biggio, and Burke outOBPed Biggio. In the first half of 2006, Burke outslugged Biggio as well, but in the second half, and overall, Biggio had the higher slugging number.

So the power thing seems kind of inconclusive: certainly four points of slugging isn't enough to make an argument, either for Biggio or against him. But then again, power is not really measured by slugging: it's measured by isolated power. In a sense, slugging is just a weighted batting average. And we already know Craig didn't do so well in that last year.

He does better in ISO, however. Last year, Biggio posted an ISO of .176. The league average was .162, and Burke was 20 points lower than that, at .142.

Here are the ISO's posted by each player shown as first and second-half splits:

Biggio first half: .159
Burke first half: .185
Biggio second half: .196
Burke second half: .101

Burke did have a higher ISO for the first half, but Biggio's .196 second-half split was the highest split posted by either player. And of course Bidge was 34 points higher for the year. And remember he had the small lead in slugging for the year.

I think this clears things up. Let's put Craig's name under the "power" column. Burke outhit and outOBPed Biggio in 2006, but Biggio showed more power.

Yes, I think we can say that.

Slugging and ISO are going to come from extra base hits, from doubles and triples and homers. Here's how Bidge and Burke stacked up in those three departments in '06:

  2B 3B HR
Bidge 33 0 21
Burke 23 1 9

Advantage Bidge. Although it doesn't mean much. Bidge played in 145 games, while Burke only played in 123. How about breaking it down per game?

  2B/g 3B/g HR/g
Bidge .228 .000 .145
Burke .187 .008 .073

Still advantage, Bidge, and it means a little but still not that much. Burke had 2.97 at bats and 3.35 plate appearances per game while Bidge had 3.77 and 4.18 respectively. Let's adjust for those numbers.

  2B/ab 23/ab hr/ab 2B/pa 23/pa HR/pa
Biggio .060 .060 .038 054 .054 .035
Burke .063 .066 .025 .056 .058 .022

23 is doubles and triples combined. That guy julien from the wal con pow blog uses it, and it made sense to use here since our two CB's combined for all of one triple. Anyway, we see that Burke actually had a slightly better doubles rate than Biggio in 2006, and that Biggio's advantage in homers was impervious to all our adjustments. I'll say that again for emphasis. No matter how you slice it, Biggio was a better home run hitter than Burke in 2006. Not unexpected, given the SLG/ISO thing, but worth stating nonetheless, because I will return to it.

Here are some more numbers broken down per at-bat and per-plate appearance:

  h/ab k/ab h/pa k/pa bb/pa
Biggio .246 .153 .222 .138 .066
Burke .276 .210 .245 .186 .065

A reminder that Burke has the better batting average, sure, but we also see that Biggio strikes out less than Burke and walks (very slightly) more. I understand the beef people have with Biggio to a certain extent, but so far, we've established that Biggio 1) hits more homers 2) walks more and 3) strikes out less than Burke.

By this point I'm needing some reminders why I thought Burke was the better player in the first place, but never fear, here they are:

  r/ab rbi/ab SRC/ab r/pa rbi/pa SRC/pa
Biggio .144 .113 .219 .130 .102 .198
Burke .158 .109 .243 .140 .097 .215
SRC = Simple Runs Created = R+RBI-HR

Biggio has a fuzzy edge in RBIs (and also in percentage of RBI opportunities converted, though never mind that), but Burke has a real one in runs and in Simple Runs created. And it's the simple runs created stat that I want to focus on, because what the Biggio detractors and the Burke supporters tell us is that using Bidge will lose us games, that he will quite simply cause us to score fewer runs. OK then, so SRC are your runs, and we've seen that Burke has an advantage on a plate appearance by plate appearance basis.

But how large is that advantage? Burke's SRC/ab is (approximately) .024 greater than Bidge's, and his SRC/pa is .17. Let's use the larger of the two to keep it simple. If based on 2006 numbers, Burke is going to be directly responsible for .024 runs more per at bat than Bidge would be, and figuring that either player would get 500 at bats as a second baseman, you then come up with a figure of 12.1 runs, call it 12, over the entire season.

And since I believe one of your common syllogisms in sabermetrics is that ten runs is a win, there you have it: Based on 2006 numbers, using Chris Burke at second base will get you an extra win over the 162-game season.

Now my own personal opinion is that with the established supremacy of Biggio in the longball department, an improvement in the Astros offense overall-as we expect--will pad Craig's SRC totals more than it will Burke's, being that a home run always drives in a greater percentage of the runners on base than a double does. I bet you Craig could negate that Burke advantage just by coming through an equal percentage of the time given a few additional opportunities.

But that's admittedly conjecture, and let's stick with that one win.

Not to diminish the importance of each and every win, especially considering the way the standings have ended up the last three years, but a single, lousy win.

That's all. With the storm that's been made about how Biggio has been so selfish, I thought it might be like five wins, or ten.

And if that's the case, if it's only a single game, then big deal.

Given the fact that Biggio has given the Astros 2700 games, I'm inclined to say that it's OK to give him back the one. Given the fact that Bidge is a three-time club MVP, given the fact that he was probably the best player in the National League for a couple years, shit just given the fact that he never opted to go free agent and sign with the Rockies or the Cardinals, I'm inclined to give him that one game. Let Brad Lidge work overtime, and not blow that one game he would have otherwise blown. Let Garner figure out how to win one late with some fancy antic, squeezing with Quintero or some such crazy thing.

Let centerfielder Chris Burke hit a homer late to win one. After twenty years of watching Bidge pick up the team, I say let the team pick one up for him.

And if not, if by chance the game the team sacrificed for Craig ends up as the one that separates them from the playoffs, then after long hard thought, I'd still think it was worth it.

This is your guy, your adopted son, Houston, and he's going to join one of the most exclusive clubs in sport. This is not about one year, this is about twenty years. It's about the Bagwell-Biggio era, it's about a history that has now been created of Houston finishing in the upper division year in and year out. Always competitive, but almost more importantly, always cohesive because of the example this guy has set. Because of Biggio, they're gonna tell this story of unaparalleled Houston baseball in Cooperstown. He does that for Houston, and you can't spot him nine innings of winning baseball?

I'm pretty sure my readers here are not of the lunatic contingent posting over at The Chronicle, but maybe you see them, maybe you run into them at the laundromat or something. If you do, tell them simply this: cut Craig Biggio a small break. It's not a big deal, and man, does he deserve it.