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Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Time to Cancel the ‘Joe Biagini as a Starter’ Project

Is Joe Biagini a starter, or is he reliever? In the two years since selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft from the San Francisco Giants, the Toronto Blue Jays organization still hasn’t come up with a definitive answer.

In 2016, the Blue Jays stashed him in the bullpen in an attempt to keep him on the roster the entire season and avoid giving him back to the Giants. Lo and behold, not only did that strategy work, but Biagini was one of the team’s unsung heroes of the 2016 season.

Coming off a season when he was the Blue Jays’ second-best reliever, the club opted to leave Biagini in the bullpen to start the 2017 campaign. Plans quickly changed and by mid-May, he was inserted into the starting rotation. Then by early July, he was back in the bullpen. Due to a desperate need for starters in late August, Biagini shifted back into the starting rotation.

The sequence for Biagini in 2017: reliever, starter, reliever, starter. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

After much back-and-forth movement, the Blue Jays committed to see it through to give Biagini every chance to prove he’s a Major League starting pitcher in 2018. He started in Spring Training, he started in Triple-A and he’s made three spot starts for the Blue Jays thus far.

Throughout all of it, Biagini hasn’t demonstrated big league calibre starting pitching potential. In 2016, he was a really good reliever. In 2017, he was a so-so reliever and a below average starting pitcher. This year, he’s back to being a below average starter.

The Blue Jays yanked Biagini around from the bullpen to the rotation plenty of times, but they’ve given him plenty of rope this year as a starter. He just hasn’t shown much promise in the rotation. Which begs the question; when do the Blue Jays finally shelve the idea of Biagini as a starter and convert him into a full-time reliever?

It’s understandable why the Blue Jays would want to exhaust every possibility to have him start games. The organization maximizes his value in the starting rotation rather than having him pitch 60-70 innings out of the bullpen. The upside with Biagini is to have him remain as a starter. However, when the quality of innings out of the rotation subverts the quality of innings he could provide as a reliever – and has provided in the past – that’s when the Jays have to be honest with themselves about Biagini’s role with this team.

Defining a pitcher as reliever-from-now-on is a scary proposition because teams don’t want to close the book on a potential future ace. Just think back to Aaron Sanchez; he was someone who struggled as a starter but flashed brilliance as a reliever in 2014 and 2015. The safe choice would’ve been to keep him in the bullpen following the 2015 season. Had that happened, Sanchez would’ve never had the opportunity to win an ERA title in 2016.

The Sanchez/Biagini scenarios are somewhat similar, but Sanchez was entering his age 23 season when the Blue Jays committed to him as a full-time starting pitcher. Biagini will soon be 28-years-old.

If Biagini was destined to be a full-time starting pitcher, he probably would’ve done so by now. Having drafted and developed him in the minors for four years as a starter, the Giants probably wouldn’t have left Biagini unprotected at the end of 2015.

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Further complicating the matters for the Blue Jays is the unknown status of Roberto Osuna. With his innings subtracted from the bullpen and up in limbo, the club seems better off to backfill the bullpen by slotting in Biagini as a reliever.

With the Blue Jays starters failing to pitch deep into ball games, the bullpen needs a reliable multi-inning reliever. Sam Gaviglio did yeoman’s work by picking up three innings in the Blue Jays’ 5-3 win over the Red Sox last Friday, but few are expecting him to stick around in the 25-man roster.

During his breakout 2016 campaign, Biagini was tasked with going more than one inning in 22 of his 60 appearances out of the bullpen. More than one-third of the time, John Gibbons asked Biagini to get more than three outs. Why not go back to the role which he excelled at less than two years ago?

If the starter-versus-reliever results were a wash, it would make more sense to keep Biagini in the rotation. But his ERA out of the bullpen is 2.61 runs better than it is as a starting pitcher. That’s a stark enough difference to justify keeping the lumbering righty as a multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen.

The Blue Jays attempted numerous times to give Biagini a fair chance to earn his keep as a starting pitcher. The quirky right-hander had five decent starts of the 18 he made last year. So far this year, Biagini has one quality start in seven games split between the Bisons and Blue Jays.

It seems unfair to completely write off his ability to start games, but the Blue Jays need to be realistic about what they have with Biagini. Sanchez proved he could shoulder the workload of a full season as a starting pitcher at the big league level. Biagini turns 28 in a few weeks and he has yet to demonstrate he’s a full-time Major League starter, let alone a decent starter.

The time is now to cancel the “Biagini as a starter” project.

  • Peter Gowdy

    OMG Ian Hunter you don’t know the first thing about baseball, do you? Nowhere in this bad opinion piece do you talk about anything that relates to the different qualities a successful starting pitcher has compared to those of a successful reliever. The extent of your analysis is just the difference between his ERA starting vs. relieving. Luckily Pete Walker is in charge of this stuff and not some two-bit armchair manager.

    • DAKINS

      Normally I’d say just using ERA is a terrible way to judge a player’s performance, but come on, it doesn’t take much of a leap to see Biagini was a much better reliever than a starter.

      Normally grouchy old men love to use just ERA to judge a pitcher, so your terrible response is quite confusing.

  • Knuckle Balls

    My two-bit armchair manager opinion is what I have watched. The Geni has a great 12 to 6 curve nice fast ball down in the zone. He seems to do well 3 to 4 innings then explodes – So starting 3rd time through the order seems tough for the Geni. Seems teams can read what he throws 3rd time through. So yes I agree bullpen it is, cause he sure hell does not seem to be making the adjustments to hitters the 3rd time through.

  • Steve-O

    Until they have no other option, I’m fine with letting him try to stick as a starter. The Jays bullpen has been surprisingly great so far, so there’s no real need to add him yet.

    Things change, and if injury or performance issues warrant it, I could see a move back to the bullpen making sense – for a team in contention.

    If, OTOH, the Jays fall out of reach of the WC, I don’t see the harm in letting him try to figure things out as a starter in Buffalo (or in MLB) and then, based on how he does, reassessing his role for 2019. Giving him the season to try to stick as a starter (and maximizing his value) is better for both him, and the club.

    • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

      I like what you say, but it has gotten to the point where he isn’t being effective, in TO or Buf. He excels in the BP, why not go with what works. I know, it’s always good to wait as long as you can, but haven’t we reached that point?

  • The Humungus

    I thought he looked really good on Sunday, tbh. He appeared to be getting squeezed a bit in that 3rd inning (wasn’t getting pitches that Pomeranz was getting even in the bottom half), and there are few guys in baseball who hit that bomb that Martinez did (although like 4 of them play in the division).

    Maybe I’m naive, but the Red Sox are really goddamned good. So are the Clevelands.

    I’m ready to give him a few more turns before I write him off completely.

    • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

      I think he should get the turns in Buffalo, and hopefully find some success. I think the time of just giving him starts, to see if he has figured it out, is over.

      • The Humungus

        I mean, that would be ideal, but who else takes Stroman’s spot? Deck McGuire? Sam Gaviglio? Chris Rowley? Ryan Borucki?

        Biagini is still the only one of the bunch who’s gotten MLB hitters out (albeit in relief). I’m slightly more comfortable with him than the other guys.

        • Knuckle Balls

          Was not Deck in the MLB last year say St Louis and his numbers were pretty good. Why not try him out. He was preforming better as of late in AAA then the Geni

          • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

            Wht’s up with this site? No reply beside your name @The Humungus.
            Biagini does have a better track record…as a reliever. But as a starter, it’s not looking so good. I agree though, who else can we use. At this point though, I would be open to giving Deck a chance. he couldn’t be any worse (fingers crossed)

  • Holly Wood

    I agree, he has been given his opportunity as a starter, and it’s not working. Has proven he can pitch out of the bullpen. I have no idea who the next starter is though