TORONTO — Conversations with Victor Martinez and Hunter Mense have changed Cavan Biggio’s thought process at the plate.
The results of that new philosophy can be seen in his batting average.
Biggio got off to a slow start this season, with his batting average sinking as low as .111 on April 29. But he and fellow Toronto utility infielder Santiago Espinal started chatting with Martinez, a special assistant to the Blue Jays organization, at spring training about how they can improve offensively.
They’ve both put in extra work with Martinez and Mense, one of Toronto’s hitting coaches, on a daily basis. Biggio said it’s completely changed his approach.
“First month of the season, I was pulling off the ball a lot. I was missing pitches that I shouldn’t have missed,” Biggio told reporters on Tuesday. “It was a lot of time in the cage working before the games and especially during the games, a lot of machine work. It’s benefited me a lot.”
The main adjustment stemming from Biggio’s work with Martinez and Mense has been altering the path of his bat through the strike zone. Throughout his career he’s been a flyball hitter, but the new approach has him swing down more.
Baseball Savant, an MLB statistics tool, says Biggio’s average launch angle this season is 16 degrees, a drop of 3.5 from last year. It also reverses his trend in 2022 where his launch angle rose 3.9 degrees to 19.5, up from his average angle of 15.6 in 2021.
That adjustment allows Biggio to hit to more parts of the field and challenge opposing pitchers and the defences behind them.
“It’s been able to help me cover the whole zone and that gives me a ton of confidence going up to the plate,” said Biggio. “I’ve seen some pitches and even give them two strikes.
“I’m trying to change my approach when I get to two strikes. I’m trying not to do too much and trying to put the ball in play. It opens up the whole field for me.”
Biggio’s batting average has climbed nearly 100 points since late April. He’s been particularly effective in August, hitting .300 with a .432 on-base percentage in 10 games so far this month. That includes nine hits, eight runs, six runs batted in, five walks and a home run.
“Since about mid-May I made a couple of adjustments,” said Biggio, who was hitting .131 on May 16. “I felt really confident with my swing and just being able to cover the zone. It’s given me a lot of confidence from then on.”
Biggio’s improved production has been well timed, as he and Espinal have been needed while Toronto tries to navigate a raft of injuries.
All-star shortstop Bo Bichette (right knee), Platinum Glove third baseman Matt Chapman (inflamed right middle finger), and Platinum Glove centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier (lacerated elbow) have missed extended periods, giving Espinal starts at third and Biggio time at second as Whit Merrifield moves from the middle infield to the outfield.
“The playing time certainly does help but even with sporadic playing time, I still kept the confidence,” said Biggio. “I have been able to produce for this team and whenever you can help the team in any sort of way, with how good we are, how deep we are, it’s huge.”
Biggio’s thoughtful approach to hitting is no surprise to manager John Schneider. The two have progressed through the Blue Jays minor-league system together as a player and coach, respectively.
“He understands game situations, understands adjustments that need to be made, and this year he’s been such a pro in terms of not getting a lot of playing time,” said Schneider. “Just taking advantage of the work he needed to do.
“He’s always been that way. He’s always been interested in trying to figure out different ways to do it. He’s always been very convicted in the way he does things.”
The Blue Jays had Thursday off and open a three-game interleague series in Cincinnati on Friday against the Reds. Bichette could be back with the team for that game, depending on how an appearance for the triple-A Buffalo Bisons went on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press