July 01, 2011
To some fantasy players the ideal is to bludgeon the opponent with superstars. Crush them with MVP candidates, trade for as many blue chips as you can, big-name your way to the big time.
Nothing wrong with that, but to me it's all about the joy of the scrub. Fantasy nirvana is finding a winning play on the waiver wire, a forgotten or overlooked name that pans out.
With that in mind, we'll dust off our in-house trophy to celebrate this sort of cheap labor, The Wiggy. The inspiration comes from journeyman Ty Wigginton(notes), the type of useful player that's out there every year for nothing if you're open-minded enough to look for him. Forget about Superman, today we celebrate Everyman.
His .228 average last year got a lot of people disinterested, not to mention the signing of Victor Martinez(notes). But the Tigers knew all along that Avila would be their catcher while V-Mart handled the DH slot, and they were encouraged by his 12 homers in 355 at-bats entering 2011. It's a shame Jim Leyland keeps Avila buried in the lineup most of the time, but eventually that has to turn.
He wasn't a candidate for this list at the beginning of the year; Morse showed plenty of 2010 pop and was an absolute beast in spring training. But an April slump (15-for-71, one homer) landed him in Jim Riggleman's doghouse, and only an injury to Adam LaRoche(notes) pushed Morse back into the lineup. Morse has 14 homers since May 1, and Riggleman and LaRoche are no longer around to complicate anything.
Roberts was known for his crazy tattoos before the year, not much else. But when the brittle Melvin Mora(notes) hit the sidelines, Roberts stepped into the lineup and took full advantage. His low batting average (.251) always seems to have his playing time in jeopardy, but he gets props for covering several positions and bringing a good eye to the dish (33 walks).
Hardy didn't hit much for the opening week, and then an oblique injury pushed him to the DL. A lot of fantasy owners muttered "I've seen this movie before" and dumped Hardy, but he's been superb since his return, posting a .313/.371/.549 slash with 26 runs and 28 RBIs over 45 games. A shift from Minnesota's roomy park to Baltimore's friendly confines helps the bottom line, and Hardy also seems to like batting leadoff, even as he's a curious fit for that post.
It isn't a stat profile that leaps off the page at you, but let's acknowledge that Gordon has been helpful in all five categories, and he's doing it as a faux-3B at that (he plays outfield full-time). Gordon is no longer puzzled by left-handed pitching; his OPS is just 11 points lower against them. Maybe he's not a superstar, but he's finally turned into a useful player at age 27.
Last year's second-half crash left a mark, and most of us were afraid to go anywhere near Boesch in March and April. But the inevitable Magglio Ordonez(notes) injury left a gap in the Detroit lineup, and Boesch has made a nifty living batting in front of Miguel Cabrera(notes) (.943 OPS in the No. 3 slot). It's a joke that Leyland occasionally drops Boesch in the order against lefties; Boesch handles the southpaws just fine (.343/.406/.517 career).
With all due respect to Joe Maddon (a manager I admire very much), what took so long to get Joyce into the mix? We still don't know if Joyce can be trusted against left-handed pitching for the long term (he's only been given 92 career at-bats against them), but he's got a history of mashing right-handed pitching. Joyce is also having a ball hitting in front of the catwalk, slashing .327/.385/.543 at home with seven homers.
When it comes to Francoeur production, we all tend to proceed carefully. We're like Charlie Brown, waiting for Lucy to take the football away. And with that in mind, when we see Frenchy hit .233 in May and .235 in June, it's tempting to yell out "a-ha, he's toast now!" Well, maybe the average is sunk, but Francoeur also has 10 steals, six homers and 27 RBIs over that span. At least he's filling the other categories. Maybe I'm just an apologist for this guy, I don't know. Keep running, Frechy. We'll accept you as you are.
Utility: Ty Wigginton (30 runs, 13 homers, 34 RBIs, 4 steals)
Good old Wiggy gets a Wiggy. He's earned it. You love that he qualifies at four positions, and you love that he's hitting in all environments (eight of his homers are on the road, along with a .545 slugging percentage). Don't you dare jerk him out of the lineup, Jim Tracy.
Others receiving consideration: Mitch Moreland(notes), J.P. Arencibia(notes), Danny Espinosa(notes), Casey Kotchman(notes), Ryan Ludwick(notes), Mark Trumbo(notes), Travis Hafner(notes), Melky Cabrera(notes).
Image courtesy Associated Press