TDG Round Table: MORTAL KOMBAT Biggio vs Hiura
Every week on Fridays, our writers here at The Dynasty Guru will be bringing you some quick hit musings about a particular topic so you, the reader, can get a blast of info from a bunch of different writers with some passionate opinions. This week’s roundtable topic is a head-to-head battle at second base: who’s the better dynasty player: Cavan Biggio or Keston Hiura?
A little more context on this one: it’s been a topic in a few of my league chats, and also the TDG Slack. Biggio is having a great season, as is Hiura, but the strikeout issues are still there. There was A LOT of Biggio hype coming into the year, so now that he’s breaking out and affirming the hype, where does he slot in the second base ranks? Coming into this year our consensus rankings had Hiura #2 and Biggio #11, with Hiura as high as #1 (7 people had him as the top second baseman) and as low as #4, and Biggio as high as #5 and as low as #26. So how much have 150 at-bats swayed our evaluation?
This is a fun one, enjoy.
I never thought I would get here but give me Cavin Biggio all day over Keston Hiura. Yes, Hiura hits the ball harder, but you also have to be able to put the bat on the ball for the power to show up. Coming through the minor leagues, Hiura was projected to have a 60-grade hit tool but with what he has done this year and last, I don’t think he has that ability anymore. It is really scary to see how much Hiura is getting beat in the zone. He has a 62.6 Z-Contact%, which is 20.2% below the league average! So so so bad. It is mainly due to pitchers throwing him stuff, especially fastballs, high in the zone and he just cannot make contact with it. Biggio, on the other hand, is just a better hitter than Hiura. While watching him at the plate, you can tell he knows the strike zone and is patient enough to wait for his pitch. He has posted double-digit walk rates at pretty much every stop and he has even lowered his strikeout rate a couple of percentage points this season. He should also swipe a couple more bags than Hiura during the year. Also, looking from a team perspective, the Blue Jays are by far the better team and should be going forward, so the possibility of runs and RBI are greater with Biggio than Hiura.
I’m still riding Keston Hiura here in this battle of talented youngsters. It is incredibly easy to fall victim to the recency bias of small samples, and I’m certainly prone to falling into that trap, but there’s enough in Hiura’s stat line to believe he’s one of, if not the, top 2nd baseman in dynasty. There’s a 2 mile-an-hour drop in his exit velocity but no change to launch angle and he’s actually barreling a higher percentage of balls this year compared to last year (where he barrelled in the top 8% of the league). Hiura’s BABIP, although likely to have regressed from the .402 of 2019, has dropped about .120 points. That’s far more regression than expected and points to him being a bit unlucky. Surprisingly, Hiura currently has a higher xBA than Biggio even with those struggles. Biggio has impressively reduced his K-rate by about 7% which is very encouraging, but even with strikeout struggles, I’d rather have Hiura’s hit tool and power with a side of speed over Biggio’s speed and OBP with a side of power.
This is a close one, but I’m more excited about Cavan Biggio moving forward. To get a real understanding of how these two compare, I checked their stats over the last 124 games (that number isn’t random – Keston has only played in 124 career games to Cavan’s 142). In any case, Keston seems like he has the upper hand in the power department, but I just can’t get on board with the massive swing-and-miss potential in his game (31.6 career K%). Cavan, however, has shown more discipline at the plate, boasting a decent 26.0% strikeout rate, and a 15.8% walk rate to Hiura’s 6.7%. While Biggio may not ultimately have the same potential fantasy upside, it’s hard for me to imagine Hiura being a perennial all-star with that kind of approach. To me, Biggio just has a better handle on major league pitching and has set the table for continued success with his understanding of the strike zone. Plus, he appears able and willing to steal more bases, and being smack dab in the middle of a loaded Blue Jays lineup for the next decade doesn’t hurt either.
Broken record… I’m not going to let <200 plate appearances vastly affect my evaluations of players. In fact, I don’t see Hiura’s ‘bad’ season from a roto standpoint being much different from Biggio’s ‘good’ roto season. Biggio has a small advantage in R+RBI and SB, but he also has around twenty more plate appearances. I think a good chunk of the info provoking people to re-evaluate these players is plate discipline. Hiura’s striking out (32.4%) slightly more than last year (30.8%), and he’s never going to be a walk machine (6.2%). Biggio on the other hand will take a walk (14.4%) and while he holds a slight advantage in batting average over Hiura this season (.247 to .229), Hiura bested him last year (.303 vs Biggio’s .234). Keston also had a career minor league BA or .317, while Biggio’s was .255. Where Keston comes out on top with little debate is power, as is obvious with his eleven home runs compared to Biggio’s six. This is backed up by Hiura’s hard-hit rate of 42% (in a ‘down’ year) and average exit velocity of 88.4, compared to Biggio’s modest 36.4% and 87.2. All in all, I see this as an interesting comparison if we only look at the nearly two hundred plate appearances this season, but I’d still take Hiura’s power stroke, and also feel he would be the better option going forward.
Honestly, this isn’t close for me and I’m a bit surprised this is a debate. We are approximately one season of plate appearances into the MLB career of each player and haven’t seen enough to make such a dramatic change in my evaluations of each player. I think this is a situation where scouting the stat line can steer you very wrong. Yes, Biggio has been much better than advertised in some areas, but let’s not pretend he’s tearing the cover off the ball: his average exit velo is a whopping 87.3 MPH. His .794 OPS is just .011 better than Hiura’s in the 7 weeks that make up the 2020 season. 2019? Hiura outclassed Biggio by .145. Hiura’s 105 wRC+ is a “catastrophic” 16 points behind Biggio’s 121 mark this season. Last year, where each player had 348+ plate appearances, Hiura was 25 points better. I guess I’m not sure which part of Average Cav’s game is suddenly so much better than Keston’s, aside from the ability to be so passive that even Gandhi thinks he should swing the bat.
I know that Hiura’s strikeout issues so far have been scary and it makes you wonder how anyone ever 60’d his hit tool. Pitchers have a book on his weaknesses at the moment and now it’s time for Hiura to adjust back and learn to lay off the high fastballs and breakers low and away. Obviously, easier said than done, but for someone with Hiura’s talent (a top 10 pick in the MLB Draft) and feel for the barrel, I’m willing to bet it’s an adjustment he can make. Here’s the thing: despite his struggles, Hiura still barreled more balls in 348 plate appearances last year (29) than Biggio has in 624 career PAs (26). He leads Biggio 14 to 5 in that category this year alone. Simply put, Hiura has a ceiling that Cavan Biggio, no matter how patient he is, just does not have the hitting talent to reach. I could be wrong, but I think we could be seeing the lowest point of Hiura’s offensive production and he’s still keeping pace with Cavan’s breakout overachievement of his scouting report. Only in an OBP league is this even remotely debatable, in my opinion.
For those concerned with Hiura’s 2B future, that concern is real- Hiura will not stick at 2B long term because of his poor defense (career: 945 Inn, -10 DRS, -19.1 UZR/150), and this year he has been the worst defensive second baseman. Biggio, on the other hand, isn’t a wizard by any means, but his defense doesn’t hurt (career: 1005.2 Inn, 0 DRS, 1.0 UZR/150). Why is this relevant? Is relevant to those searching for a standout 2B for years to come; frankly, I think neither of these guys sticks there long term, but Biggio has more potential to stick for an extended period of time (even with Austin Martin on deck). As we know, position eligibility brings value related to the offensive output associated with that position, so I’ll take first base Biggio over first base Hiura for that reason. Yes, StatCast-wise Hiura kills Biggio, but Hiura’s swing and miss game hurt him a lot: his career whiff percentage is 38.7, and zone contact percentage of 70.6; for context, the league average wiff% is 24.5, and zone contact % is 82.8. On the flip-side Biggio has a career zone contact% of 82.0 and a 25.4 whiff%, both of which aligned with the league average. Also, Biggio walks a lot more- 15.6% compared to Hiura’s 6.8%. Milwaukee doesn’t have a 1B top prospect, so I think Hiura will be moving to first soon, thereby subtracting value to his offensive output. Being StatCast friendly is not necessary for success (I’m looking at you, career of José Altuve).
The second base is becoming a tricky position to value and rank for dynasty purposes. Coming into the 2020 season Keston Hiura was a popular pick to rise the ranks and offer plus power numbers with a solid batting average. So far this season the power has been there; he has hit 11 home runs in 41 games (a 162-game pace of 40-plus taters). Unfortunately, the batting average has not followed suit, as it currently sits at .229 on the year. His underlying numbers do not offer much hope for a late-season resurgence in batting average, as his xBA is actually slightly lower (.220), partly fueled by significant decreases in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. These dips in batted ball data are not encouraging, but his BABIP of .281 does suggest that he has gotten somewhat unlucky this season. Looking at Hiura’s career BABIP numbers, he has consistently been in the upper .300 to .400 range as he rose through the minor leagues and his 2019 time in the majors. I will bet that his 2020 lackluster batted ball data is an outlier and moving forward his exit velocity and the hard-hit rate will return to form bolstering his batting average and sustaining his power output. Any additional improvements to his strikeout rate by cutting down on his chase and/or whiff rate will help to continue pushing his name up the dynasty rankings for years to come.
This past year at TDG I ranked Keston Hiura as my number one overall second baseman. This seemed wise at the time; he had just come off a season where he slashed .302/.368/.570 with 19 home runs and nine steals over just 84 games. I got caught up imagining what he could do in 150 or more games and not how his 30.8% strikeout rate and .402 BABIP were going to make continued success quite difficult.
Fast forward to 2020 and the strikeout rate has risen to 32.4% while his BABIP has fallen to .281, as a result, Mr. Hiura is batting just .229, albeit with 11 dingers. This is not what I signed up for, nor is it what I want. Part of the reason I was willing to be so forgiving to Hirua’s absurdly high strikeout rates was the scouting reports of his vaunted hit tool. It was said to be the best in his draft class. So far his swinging strike rate the last two seasons of 17.5% and 20.6% have shown that those evaluators may have gotten this one wrong.
On the flip side, Cavan Biggio has been the model of stability, especially in OBP formats. Biggio, who was drafted one year before Hiura in 2016, burst onto the scene last year with 16 home runs and 14 stolen bases over 100 games. He also carried a very impressive 16.5% walk rate. This year he’s up to more of the same, but instead of regressing like Hiura he has cut his strikeout rate by more than 7% and has the 26th best BB/K rate in all of baseball.
While Biggio isn’t likely to win you any leagues he won’t lose them for you either and most importantly he keeps getting better. Give me Biggio long term and save your volatile Hiura.
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