Joe Biagini put on a couple of clinics the other night, first in how to let it snowball right quick, and then another in how to regain control of a lost cause. After ceding six runs without the benefit of an out—and, we must mind for context, unleashing the most fantastical of crescendos in the form of a three-run shot by Kurt Suzuki—he quietly proceeded to send 12 straight back to the pine and grind out four tidy innings that the bullpen didn’t have to.
Still, as a wise man said, some things once you do, they can never be undone. Biagini entered the week a popular streaming target against a mediocre Atlanta offense, but the first-inning carnage led to over 7,500 drops on Yahoo over the past 24 hours. Were those faithless right to jettison the Jay right-hander on the back of one bad inning? He had, after all, pitched quite well leading up to the Suzuki Uprising, allowing no walks or earned runs in his two, pitch-limited prior turns in the rotation. And he pitched well to the next 12 batters after the blow-up.
So, what are we supposed to make of this guy?
Well, he’s a UC-Davis guy, for one. So that’s good. The 26th-rounder didn’t pitch after signing in 2011, then struck out a bunch of dudes the next season, while also walking a bunch and generally not pitching all that well. He didn’t pitch that well in 2013 either, particularly in the second half, but he did enough to warrant a jump up to High A in 2014. He pitched better in the tough environs of the Cal League, and he put up his best minor-league season at Double A the following year.
That all was enough for the Blue Jays, who selected him in the Rule 5 draft following the ‘15 season. Chris Crawford at the time noted that, “There’s not a single pitch here that’s plus, and it’s very unlikely he’ll able to miss bats at the big-league level. That being said, he throws four pitches for strikes, and his ability to keep the ball in the park makes him a candidate to pitch multiple innings as a 12th man on a pitching staff.” That’s not a half-bad write-up for a Rule 5 guy! We should all be so lucky with our 12th men.
After sticking and pitching a full season of solidly above-average relief last year, and starting in the ‘pen with more of the same this spring, here we are: With a couple of the team’s starters on the shelf, he’s now worked his way into an extended look at rotation work. And he’s done it primarily on the back of an excellent fastball, which is a great place to start. His four-seamer sits 94-95 mph and, as with all of his pitches, comes out of a much higher-than-average release point. Between all 77 of his inches and a high three-quarter slot, Biagini’s able to generate excellent plane on his pitches, and he leverages that strength effectively by imparting quality vertical movement on his pitches. His four-seamer generates an elite amount of ground-ball contact as a result.
Among his secondaries, the curveball in particular has a ton of depth and finish, with over six inches of vertical movement on your average big-league hook. The pitch has produced an above-average whiff rate, and given the trend lines towards doubling down on one’s best non-fastball pitches, it’s probably not long until we start to see a little bit more of it as a result.
The rest of his arsenal is certainly not wanting, however. He also throws one of those awesome cutter/slider hybrid things that’re all the rage right now, along with a changeup that will occasionally look like this:
All of this is to say that The Stuff is there, and it is better now than it was when Toronto plucked him from San Francisco’s farm. And, for our purposes, it is important to understand that The Stuff has played so far. Heading into his start Wednesday night, he sat eighth in raw average exit velocity allowed, and only two pitchers who could match his pitch total to date were able to boast lower adjusted exit velocities. His ground-ball rate sits in the 93rd percentile. And while his swinging-strike rate currently sits below league-average, the whiffs have been, more or less, league average for a starter—and there is room for growth on that front with increased curveball deployment.
In spite of his blow-up Wednesday night, Biagini’s DRA- currently sits 12th among all pitchers with at least 30 innings under their belts this year, and there frankly just aren’t a ton of warning signs in the profile to suggest imminent, significant regression. His 60-percent LOB paints the picture of poor luck thus far, and while his BABIP has been generously advantageous to date, the sky-high ground-ball rate and broadly poor quality of contact he’s allowed should temper expectations for a jarring correction ahead.
This is all theoretical, of course, and the realities of performance and context are often much less simple. So it goes for Biagini, as unfortunately for fantasy managers his upcoming schedule is a rather brutal affair. He’ll draw a nasty matchup next week at Milwaukee, which has played as one of the most-extreme offensive parks in the majors, and houses a strong Brewers lineup that sits ninth in team TAv. After that, he lines up to face the surprising Reds (second in team TAv) at home, followed by a trip to the Bronx for a date with literally the best offense in baseball. Yeesh.
All of this makes for a tough decision: The performance indicators simply are too good to just toss Biagini to the wolves here, but the impending matchups are not at all appealing for an untested young starter. It’s also entirely possible that—especially should he falter—he gets replaced by a convalesced J.A. Happ.
I’m holding him in leagues where I’ve got him, and in deeper mixed and AL-Only formats I’d lean towards that approach wherever possible. Roster constructions issues will likely weigh heavily for most managers out there, however and, in shallower formats, cutting bait’s probably the right call. Just don’t forget about him after you do.
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