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Current Oriole of the Week: Larry Bigbie

Feb 4, 2005

Much has been said about the potential of Larry Bigbie to be an impact player in the major leagues. I have in the past compared him favorably with a young Paul O’Neall; but how does that analogy hold up under the microscope?

While O’Neall did make it to the majors at the age of 22 (compared to Bigbie’s 23), by the time both players were 25 years old they had surprisingly similar stats:

Larry Bigbie
 Year Ag G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG
 2001 23 47  131   15   30   6  0   2   11  17  42  .229  .318  .321
 2002 24 16   34    1    6   1  0   0    3   1  11  .176  .194  .206
 2003 25 83  287   43   87  15  1   9   31  29  60  .303  .365  .456
      25 146 452   59  123  22  1  11   45  47  113 .272  .339  .398 

Paul O'Neill
 Year Ag G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG
 1985 22 5   12    1    4   1  0   0    1   0   2  .333  .333  .417
 1986 23 3    2    0    0   0  0   0    0   0   1  .000  .333  .000
 1987 24 84  160  24   41  14  1   7   28  18  29  .256  .331  .488
 1988 25 145 485  58  122  25  3  16   73  38  65  .252  .306  .414
      25 237 659  83  167  40  4  23  102  56  97  .253  .312  .431

Clearly, O’Neill’s raw stats outweigh Bigbie’s at the age of 25 due to more playing time. However, if we were to scale Bigbie’s stats onto the same number of games and ABs as O’Neill had, a plausible reason behind Bigbie’s small playing time may be found:

Larry Bigbie (scaled relatively)
 Year Ag G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG
      25 237 659   96   179 32  1  16  neg  69  165  .272 .339  .398

Observing these stats, a few items immediately jump to mind:

  • Bigbie would have scored roughly 15% more runs than O’Neill, most likely due to the significantly larger OBP.
  • Bigbie would have struck out 170% of what O’Neill did.
  • Bigbie’s SLG is markedly lower than O’Neill’s

Of course, all of these points preclude that Bigbie would have continued at his historical rate during the extra ABs in the scaled model. As we all know, in baseball anything can happen in the span of 207 ABs (the difference between the historic stats and the scaled). All caveats aside, it is the second two items that might explain why Bigbie was refused the same chance as O’Neill had during his early years. That is, there is a tremendous stigma against the strike out that still persists in today’s baseball climate (is there any doubt that Adam Dunn would have been far more revered than he was had he not struck out 195 times in 2004). Coupling his strikeout rate with the fact that Bigbie until that point was an extremely weak hitter, and the picture becomes clear. That is, O’Neill’s career SLG at the age of 25 was much more impressive than Bigbie’s during the highly touted juiced ball era. In fact, O’Neill’s SLG for that time was above league average (.383), while Bigbie’s fell below (~.420) for his era. Simply put, a weak hitting outfielder who strikes out a lot simply doesn’t get a lot of ABs in the major leagues. However, Bigbie’s performance for that time cannot be viewed in a vacuum. That is, if we compare his scaled stats with those of the players he might have replaced for that time, then an interesting dilemma arises. Of course, in 2001 the lion’s share of outfield ABs were wasted on a floundering Brady Anderson at the end of his career, and a similarly positioned Delino DeSheilds. Between the two, the following ‘stellar’ lines emerged:

Anderson and DeSheilds - 2001
 Year Ag G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG
             618   79   124 20  5  11  66   91  119  .201 .311  .303

In a word… OUCH! 2001 fell within the tenure of Mike Hargrove, and a common view is that he always benched young players in lieu of veterans. However, even a cursory glance shows that is not in fact. In fact, Jerry Hairston, Jay Gibbons, and Brian Roberts found substantial playing time during the 2001 season while Sidney Ponson, Josh Towers, and BJ Ryan all pitched regularly. What about 2002? Of course, it is difficult to build a case for playing Bigbie in 2002 given the emergence of Gary Matthews and Jay Gibbons that season, as well as the eventual All-Star calibre play of Mora (although that season was rough for him). However, it is difficult to believe that given a full season of playing time, Bigbie would have been a worse option than either of Marty Cordova, Chris Singeton, Luis Lopez, or Chris Richard. While Bigbie received 34 ABs for the year 2002, the four players mentioned received 1079 ABs, had a .250/.302/.407 AVG/OBP/SLG line, and struck out 244 times (a separate article could thus be written on the injustice of not playing Howie Clark that year, but I will leave that exercise to the reader). For both 2001 and 2002, it is conceivable that Bigbie would have been a much better option than those provided. It is my belief that 2002 specifically caused Hargrove to garner the ‘veteran’ bias label that was pinned to his forehead. However, again Hairston, Gibbons, Ponson, Ryan, and even Julio and Bauer suggest otherwise. My guess is that Hargrove tended to have a bias against young, weak-hitting outfielders who struck out a lot (which Bigbie clearly at that time). However, it appeared that he had no issues playing veterans matching the latter two patterns.

It seems that I have drifted far afield from my original intention of comparing Bigbie with a young Paul O’Neill. However, by the end of this article it may seem clearer how the previous digression fits into the larger picture. Having examined both players up to the age of 25 and found quite similar players, the truly striking resemblance comes at the age of 26. Specifically:

Larry Bigbie - Age 26
 Year Ag G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG
 2004 26 139 478   76   134 23  1  15  68   45  113  .280 .341  .427
Paul O'Neill - Age 26
 Year Ag G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG
 1989 26 117 428   49   118 24  2  15  74   46  64  .276  .346  .446

Nearly, identical numbers in every regard except again for the difference in strikeouts and SLG. However, the difference between Bigbie’s SLG versus O’Neill’s and the 2004 league average has closed considerably from the following years. Taking into consideration that by 26 O’Neill had received approximately 1200 plate appearances compared to Bigbie’s 1025, it is possible that the gap between the two may be thinner, or even eclipsed by now, given more playing time to the latter. Sadly, while stiffs like Luis Lopez, Delino DeSheilds, and an aged Brady Anderson were offering essentially guaranteed outs to opponents, Bigbie was hitting very well in the minors and barely getting a sniff at the bigs. That’s not to say that Bigbie would have been an All-Star at any time prior to this season, or even any time in the near future. In fact, as has been shown, Bigbie is indeed a flawed player, albeit one showing steady improvement from year to year. Instead, I hope only to present the possibility that the Orioles could have been better given that Larry Bigbie had been given the opportunity to grow during a time when there were no excuses to the contrary. Will Larry Bigbie, be the next Paul O’Neill? The jury is still out on that matter, however the trends pointing in that direction are compelling.


One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. Justin

    The reason Bigbie hasn’t matched O’Neill’s playing time is not because undeserving veterans prevented him from getting a chance – it is because he has been a gimp that goes down with a major injury every other season.

    The fact that Bigbie hit .229/.318/.321 in an extended look in the majors at age 23 is a pretty good indicator that he needed minor league time for his age 24 season.

    He would have gotten a full season in his age 25 season; however, he missed most of the late-Spring and early-Summer with an injury. He only had 117 AAA AB in his age 25 season (most of which were rehab) compared to 287 major league AB.

    Bigbie started 2003 (his age 25 season) in the major leagues, and would have spent the entire season there if he hadn’t gotten hurt. Add those 117 AAA AB to his major league total. Then let’s say there were 100 AB he missed when he totally out of commission (it was probably a lot more than that). So that leaves us with 452 AB + 117 AB + 100 AB = 669 AB.

    If Bigbie had stayed healthy last season, he would have had 10+ MORE AB than O’Neill at the same age.

    Bigbie’s lack of major league ABs is due to injuries, not because of managerial decisions.

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