After the Blue Jays clinched a postseason with a win against the Yankees two Thursdays ago, Charlie Montoyo started resting his regulars the final weekend before the postseason. First up with Cavan Biggio, who had his first full offday of the season on the Friday (twice before he came in pinch hitting for the 8th spot in order).
Though perhaps or even probably the right call from the team perspective, it did cost Biggio some “black ink” on his historical record. Before the off-day, Biggio was leading the major leagues in plate appearances with 256, three clear of second place. By the time he next came to the plate Saturday, he had tumbled into a three-way tie for third. In the end there wasn’t time to make it up, none of the guys ahead of him sat out, and Biggio’s 265 PA ended up behind Marcell Ozuna’s MLB-leading 267 PA and Francisco Lindor’s AL-leading 266 PA.
Had Biggio in fact led the majors in plate appearances, it would have made him a chip off the old block. Craig Biggio twice led the majors in plate appearances, with 673 PA in 1995 (also a shortened season) and 749 PA in 1999. Three more times he paced the National League: 721 PA in 1992 (t-3 in MLB), 744 PA in 1997 (second to Derek Jeter’s 748), and 738 PA in 1998 (second to Alex Rodriguez at 748). In fact, from 1992 to 1999, Craig Biggio was top-10 in plate appearances every year.
But that wasn’t the only managerial decision that cost Biggio the likelihood of leading the majors or league in plate appearances. On August 21st at Tampa, Montoyo inexplicably moved Biggio to the 8th spot in the order. He came to bat four times that game, whereas the top of the order got five.
Moreover, for the first 10 games of the season Biggio batted second. While that was a far more reasonable place to have him than the above instance, with his high walk rates and thus OBP, he seemed the best suited regular to hit leadoff — especially compared to the uber-aggressive Bo Bichette who started the season there. Over 10 games, the expectation would be this would cost a batter one PA, but interestingly the second, third and fourth games of the seasons all ended with the leadoff hitter making the last out and Biggio on-deck (Bichette in the first two, Teoscar Hernandez the third time).
Had Biggio just hit leadoff the entire season, even with the off-day at the end and two partial ones earlier, he would have led the majors regardless (the others in the top five started all 60 games).
When I first noticed that Biggio was leading the league in PA the last week of the season (after 9/23 he was the only player with more than 250 PA and I was coincidently applying that screen to some data on Fangraphs with 2020 the default season), I wondered if Biggio might be the first Blue Jay to lead the majors in plate appearances in a season.
The first obvious candidate was the late Tony Fernandez, leadoff hitter for the very good teams of the 1980s. Though he came close a few times, most particularly finishing second in 1986, 15 PA behind Don Mattingly (he did lead lead baseball with 687 at-bats since he never walked much). Additionally, in both 1988 and 1990 he finished third, an almost identical distance off the pace at 15 and 16 PA behind Wade Boggs and Harold Reynolds respectively.
The next thought was of Vernon Wells’ monster 2003 season, when he led the majors with 215 hits and set the single season franchise record with 735 plate appearances. And while he did lead the American League (edging out Alfonso Soriano with 734), Juan Pierre of the Marlins led MLB with 747 in his first of five straight seasons playing all 162 games. This was all the more impressive considering Wells hit third all season in 2003, a spot that should get approximately 35 less PA over the course of a season than the leadoff spot.
Those candidates exhausted, my inclination was that no Blue Jay had ever lead the majors in plate appearances. But it turns out that Biggio would not have been the first. In 2009, Aaron Hill came to the plate 734 times, five more than Chone Figgins of the Angels to lead the majors. It’s particularly interesting given that the 2009 Jays were not offensively profilic, Hill batted second the entire season, and “only” played in 158 games. It was the lowest MLB-leading total in a non-strike shortened season since the aforementioned Boggs in 1988 with 719 PA.
Other Blue Jays who have been close include Paul Molitor in 1993, who like Wells led the AL with 725 largely out of the 3-hole (25 games hitting 6th!) but finished well of the pace of Lenny Dykstra at 778. The closest is arguably Josh Donaldson in 2015, whose 711 PA where just two shy of Manny Machado. Below is a chart of the Blue Jays player with the most plate appearances by season, with their MLB and AL ranks:
Should Biggio have played all three games the final series so that he maintained the MLB in plate appearances?
This poll is closed
Yes, always give a player the chance for black ink
No, planning for the playoffs was more important
No, if not for poor decisions earlier both would have feasible