Wiggy in Philly

Ty Wigginton has hit 117 home runs the last six seasons combined. No kidding.

For someone who has hit 20 or more home runs in four of his last six years, Wigginton doesn’t get a whole lot of respect in fantasy baseball circles. Why? Perhaps because he’s rarely had a defined role other than “super-utility.” Wigginton, 34, has played all over the diamond in his career (those 13 innings at shortstop in 2009 were no doubt a boon to many) but for fantasy baseball purposes, it’s difficult to rely on consistent at-bats from him (even though he gets pretty consistent at-bats). But he now takes his act to Philadelphia, where that stigma only worsens.

Wigginton will qualify at first base, third base, and outfield in almost all formats and manager Charlie Manuel has indicated that Wigginton will be used mostly at the corner infield positions. At last check, those corner positions are currently occupied by Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard. So how will this play out for Wigginton?

First of all, Wigginton does provide some decent power although he’s better utilized by taking advantage of his platoon splits versus lefties (career .274/.354/.461). His recent bump in wOBA (.322) and ISO (.175) might be a product of Coors Field, although Citizens Bank Park is also an awfully favorable stadium to hit in and both figures hover right around his career averages. Given a full time gig with regular at-bats, Wigginton could probably produce something along the lines of a .260/.320/.420 with 20 home runs and a respectable number of RBI and runs. But it’s the at-bats that continue to dog him.

In Philadelphia, there’s the obvious hole at first base that an October torn achilles tendon created. But that’s not likely to be a vacancy longer than April. And say what you want about Ryan Howard and his splits, there’s nobody that would suggest Ty Wigginton deserves a platoon start against a left handed pitcher over Howard other than perhaps Ty Wigginton’s mom. The fact is, Wigginton isn’t likely to see much more than about 30 games at first base, barring some kind of Philadelphia disaster.

On the other side of the infield is Placido Polanco, also recovering from off-season surgery, this of the hernia variety. By most accounts, Polanco should be ready for spring training and assuming the team still values his defense, he is the presumed starter. But perhaps the team soured on Polanco’s bat, after suffering through one of the worst offensive seasons in his long career, posting a wOBA of just .304 and wRC+ of 88.

Polanco and Wigginton are the yin and yang of run prevention and run creation. If you could fuse the two together into a Placido Wigginton hybrid, you’d be on to something. Polanco, because of his defense, managed to still be almost three wins above replacement in 2011, despite his offensive struggles. Wigginton, on the other hand, is a butcher with the glove — and while he may certainly hit the snot out of a good number of offerings, his defensive play has kept his value right about replacement level for the last two seasons.

Of all the positions Wigginton has played in his career, third base may be his worst with a career UZR/150 of -15.3. I’m sure Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee might notice a difference given that roughly 30% and 20% of their batted balls are pulled to the left side by right handed hitters, respectively. Charlie Manuel might not be a fan of advanced stats, but once he gazes upon his defense with his very own eyes, I just don’t see Wigginton sticking as a regular at third base in Philadelphia.

So that leaves the outfield, which Manuel doesn’t have too much flexibility with either. Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are etched in stone and Manuel has alluded to the possibility that left field is John Mayberry’s to lose. Further outfield options include Domonic Brown, who might spend part of the season in AAA, but also Ben Francisco. Even if Brown isn’t in the mix, both Mayberry and Francisco are well younger, better defensively, and also right handed, like Wigginton.

It’s not that I think Wigginton won’t get some playing time, I’m just not convinced that he will see much more than about 350 plate appearances, doing a lot of late inning pinch-hitting duties and spot starts after the first month of the season. It just doesn’t make sense to play him regularly unless Philly is truly sick and tired of Polanco’s bat or Mayberry lays an egg early in the season.

And without a regular gig, Wigginton has fantasy baseball appeal in only the deepest of formats.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Though in real life, I love this move for the Phillies so long as they didn’t give up much with the player to be named. There’s no assurance of how well Howard’s Achilles will heal (as ankle injuries can be quite slow to recover from) and I would guess a setback is likelier than not. As such, we could be seeing more of Wiggy than we think at 1B this season…

Wiggy’s a good, cheap backup who won’t become obsolete if Howard recovers fully though.