A Rule Five Review: Joe Biagini

Examining the third successful pick (so far) of the Rule Five Draft.

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In my last post, I continued my review of the Rule Five Draft by analyzing the second of three successful relievers who were picked. In this post, I’ll examine the third.

Joe Biagini

Background: In 2011, the Giants made Biagini a 26th-round pick out of UC Davis. He made 89 appearances for a variety of their affiliates. Biagini was actually groomed as a starter, as 86 of those 89 appearances were starts. He posted some decent numbers, only posting a FIP north of four at one stop. He did a good job limiting homers in his most recent experience in the minors, allowing a miniscule HR/9 mark (under .5) in each year from 2013-2015, while pitching 96.2 innings or more in each of those years. His walk rates had been improving (career-best 2.35 BB/9 in 130.1 Double-A innings last year), but his strikeout rates had not (career-worst 5.80 K/9 last year). Despite the career worst K-rate last year, the Blue Jays elected to take Biagini in the Rule Five Draft.

Evaluation: There is a lot to like about Biagini. His walk-rate is a career best 2.12 per nine this year, and his K-rate is back up to 7.89 per nine. These rates are backed up by an O-Swing rate of 35%, which is far above the league average of 30.2%. In fact, that is the 32nd highest of the 290 pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings this year. His first-pitch strike rate is also the fifth highest (!) of those 290 pitchers. Most importantly in regards to strikeouts, he has an above average swinging strike rate (10.6%, league average is 10.1%). Pair this good control of the strike zone with a solid groundball rate (52.8%, tied for 48th highest of the 290), and we already have a nice reliever here.

But wait, there’s more! His Hard-hit percentage is tied for the 7th lowest among those 290 pitchers. Statcast furthers my belief that Biagini has been good at limiting hard contact, as his average exit velocity of 88 MPH is more than a mile per hour lower than the average for pitchers with at least 150 batted ball events this season. His popup rate is also firmly above average (at 13%, league average is 9.7% this year), even though his average launch angle is incredibly low (18th lowest of the 217 pitchers with at least 150 batted ball events this year), which is also good.

There’s one more thing to examine, and that’s Biagini’s repertoire. This year, he’s relied primarily on his fastball, a four-seamer that sits around 94-95 and can get up around 97. For such a hard pitch, it has some good arm-side movement and even a little sinking action at times. Observe:

He can also spot it high:

However you look at it, Biagini has a heckuva fastball. He uses it a whopping 62.4% of the time, and for good reason. He gets 8.6% whiffs on it, and 5.6% is considered good for a four-seamer. The ISO against it is a mere .077. It even has a stellar 53.3% groundball rate (34.2% is around average for a four-seamer).

What about his other offerings? Let’s start with his second most used pitch, a curveball that Biagini uses 17.5% of the time. The most impressive thing about Biagini’s curve is the high spin rate. Of the 143 pitchers who have thrown at least 150 curves, Biagini’s has the eight highest average spin rate. This has led to some excellent movement on the pitch. Of the 190 pitchers who throw a curveball and have thrown at least 50 innings this year, Biagini’s curve has the the 18th most drop. Check out the movement on this one:

Hitters have an insanely low .033 ISO against it, and a 38 wRC+. Yes, you read that right. A 38, when 100 is average. It gets 13.2% whiffs, and 9.5% is considered good. It gets 53.8% grounders, and 45.4% is considered good. Lastly, it comes in around 80 MPH on average, giving Biagini a completely different velocity band.

His third most used pitch is a slider. Although he’s only thrown 130 this year, he’s gotten 25 whiffs, good for a 19.2% swinging strike rate, and 13% is considered good for a slider. It also has a 59.1% groundball rate, and 41.2% is considered good for a slider. It comes in hard, at around 89 MPH on average, which makes up for its mediocre movement. After games on 9/12/16, Biagini’s slider had the ninth highest groundball rate amongst the 273 pitchers who had thrown at least 100 sliders this year. It was also tied for the 40th highest in terms of whiffs per swing in that group.

Biagini’s fourth and final offering is a changeup that he seldom uses (only 61 thrown this year). However, it has gotten 19.7% whiffs and a 50% groundball rate. It seems to have some nice fade on it and a bit of sink, which makes me think that, if he were ever to go back to starting, it would become a serviceable weapon to be deployed against lefties. Here is a nice one (against a lefty!) that induced a weak groundout:

Bottom Line: Biagini has some solid upside. He has a nice heater that he uses most of the time, and his slew of secondary offerings have played well off of it in relief this year. However, I think that Biagini also has the potential to become an effective starter. His curveball has a top-10 spin rate. His slider gets whiffs and grounders at an elite clip. He even has a changeup that looks decent and that I think can be used effectively against lefties. Biagini’s repertoire covers at least three distinct velocity bands, which would also help him to become an effective starter. His fastball comes in around 94, his slider at 89, his change at 86, and his curve at 80. If he can get his change to slow down a couple of ticks, he would have a new, fourth velocity band, (right now, the change and slider overlap a bit) and the ideal 10 MPH separation between the fastball and changeup. Still only 26, Biagini has time to develop his secondary offerings, and could become at least a decent starter, should he do so.

Data is from FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Savant. Videos are from MLB.com and PitcherList. Stats are as of 9/10/16, unless otherwise specified. Photo taken by Tom Szczerbowski, found on 6ixsports.com.

Thanks for reading!

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