Toward a Unified Theory of Ty Wigginton

Dilip Vishwanat

The St. Louis Cardinals signed Ty Wigginton because the slower he gets, the more like Ty Wigginton he becomes.

In 12 seasons as a Major League baserunner, Ty Wigginton has been 15 runs below average. He was once fast enough to play second base, a little—to steal 12 bases in 14 attempts—but even then he was just not especially good at it. Now he's bad at it.

He used to be a pretty good hitter, at least. From 27 to 30 he hit .277/.335/.488, for an OPS+ of 114. That stretch ended back in 2008, though—capped with a career year in Houston—and since then he's been a not especially good hitter: Low OBP, slow on the bases, not quite enough power to make that worthwhile.

This has only made Ty Wigginton stronger.

On Monday he had his St. Louis Cardinals Moment—probably his only one, but if he gets another it still won't look anything like that one. In case you're someplace you can't watch the video, here's what happened: Pinch-hitting for Lance Lynn, Wigginton picked up his first extra-base hit of the season when Rick Ankiel, who signed a contract the same afternoon and was wearing a borrowed glove, misplayed a looping fly ball.

Then Matt Carpenter sliced a ball off the Mets' 31-year-old rookie relief pitcher's leg and deep behind the first base line—an ersatz fair-foul bunt, basically, a Ross Barnes play. The catcher ran after it, David Wright didn't run home, and Ty Wigginton, to his credit, did.

So Ty Wigginton slid in head-first for the go-ahead run, having taken two bases on an infield single at the moment the Cardinals needed them most. (His career Clutch Score is minus-6.45.)

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Ty Wigginton is a bad major-league baseball player, and the worse he gets at it, the more Ty Wigginton he becomes. Because the point of enjoying Ty Wigginton, of employing him, especially, is to watch him occasionally exceed the low, completely organic expectations he has set for you.

It's not Ty Wigginton's fault he's a replacement-level baseball player; that's exactly where his career arc says he should be, by now. And he'll keep trying as long as he gets a shot, which isn't his fault either, and sometimes he'll do something exactly right.

And the worse he gets as a baserunner, an infielder, a hitter, the smaller those moments have to be to surprise and delight us—more importantly, to surprise and delight his manager and teammates, who already like the guy. Even at his best Ty Wigginton was a guy who stared his failings down—he couldn't really play second base, he wasn't hitter-enough to stick at third—and pushed hard enough against them to be valuable. Now he has more failings, and more to push against, which makes him more like Ty Wigginton.

This is why Ty Wigginton keeps getting two-year contracts, each more implausible than the last. I'm not sure it's possible to make them stop.

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