I realize the first instinct in any competitive endeavor is to destroy everything in your path. And when it comes to fantasy baseball, that means acquiring stars. Load up with Kershaw, Trout, Miggy and Goldschmidt, take everyone down.
Nothing wrong with that (if you can hypnotize all your opponents), but I prefer the road less traveled. Oh, sure, I love a star here and there, but it's twice as satisfying to me to connect on a player unheralded and unwanted. As Eddie Felson used to say, money won is twice as sweet as money earned.
With this theme in mind, we'll talk Wiggy for 2014. What are The Wiggys? It's a collection of the best - and most surprising - pickups of the year, inspired by the patron saint of free pickups, Ty Wigginton. We're looking for black swans and red-headed stepchildren here, the unwanted, the type of player you get laughed at for believing in.
Catcher: Steven Vogt, Athletics - Devin Mesoraco wouldn't be a bad choice here - he's the No. 2 catcher at the break and his ADP was outside the Top 200. But Mesoraco was also a first-round draft pick back in 2007 and all over the prospect clipboards at the front of this decade; it was probably just a matter of time (read: Dusty Baker leaving) before he clicked.
Instead we'll rock the Vogt, a minor-league journeyman who's been a revelation over the last month (.358/.388/.532, four homers over 109 at-bats) in the Wiggy breeding ground of Oakland. Keep them coming, Pitt. Vogt also qualifies at three positions, and he's usually spared the grunt-work of catching. (Brothers in Wigginess: Every Oakland catcher, Mike Zunino.)
First Base: Steve Pearce, Orioles - It's fair to say Pearce wasn't in Baltimore's plans at the end of April, when they released him. But the Chris Davis injury a couple of days later reopened the Baltimore door, and Pearce eventually fell into a regular job at the beginning of May. He's on a .322/.391/.578 tear over the last 54 games, with a 28-11-31-2 fantasy line.
How can you not love an out-of-nowhere story at Age 31? Manny Machado was sizzling at the end of the first half, but Pearce might keep the No. 2 spot in the Baltimore order nonetheless.
Second Base: Dee Gordon, Dodgers - Brian Dozier received a lot of Twitter love when Wiggy nominations were percolating, and he's been supported in the Arcade all season. But Dozier was also drafted in the majority of Yahoo leagues, which all but disqualifies him from today's angle. Gordon, meanwhile, went unclaimed in 71 percent of Yahoo leagues, as most of us thought he was just keeping the second base spot warm for expensive import Alex Guerrero.
So much for that: Gordon rocked a .292-52-3-23-43 line in the first half, marking his territory and reminding us of the upside we dreamed about just a few years back. Guerrero still looms in the minors (coming back from the bizarre Miguel Olivo ear-biting incident), but the Dodgers can't take a job away from Gordon. Maybe Hanley Ramirez eventually settles in at third base. (Brothers in Wigginess: Scooter Gennett.)
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford, Giants - Probably the weakest of the Wiggy positions, and it was tempting to slide Gordon over to this spot (where he qualifies). Alcides Escobar isn't a bad pick; undrafted in two-thirds of Yahoo leagues, he's currently the No. 10 player at the position. But the soul of Wigginess is low expectations, and that pushes the story to Crawford, who was untouched in 97 percent of Yahoo leagues back in March. He's bringing a wonky average to the mix, but seven homers, 36 runs scored and 37 RBIs are ownable in most formats.
Third Base: Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians - Todd Frazier is the Dozier of this position; a wonderful breakout, but he was almost universally owned before the year. Salute him, but we can't Wiggy him. (Anthony Rendon, same thing.)
The Cleveland offense was loaded with underachievers in the first half, but thank the roto gods for Chisenhall, the classic post-hype case. A .328-39-9-41-2 line is superb for just 262 at-bats, and he also gave us the most memorable offensive game of the first half. Let's hear it for Lonnie Baseball. (Brothers in Wigginess: Conor Gillaspie, Josh Harrison, Casey McGehee).
Outfield: J.D. Martinez, Tigers; Charlie Blackmon, Rockies; Marcell Ozuna, Marlins - Blackmon was ignored in over 90 percent of Yahoo drafts, as Colorado sorted through a cast of thousands in center field. His production has come in bunches (and mostly at home), but how can we complain about the No. 6 fantasy outfielder (.306-53-14-52-18)? Even if the power dips (as we expect), we're talking about a contact-heavy hitter with plus speed, in the ultimate hitter's haven.
Martinez was discarded by the Astros of all teams, who didn't buy into his mechanical adjustments at the plate. A short power spree in Triple-A Toledo got him to Detroit, and since then he's been a monster (.346-27-13-43). Ozuna's lack of power last year probably kept him off the March radar (just two-percent drafted). He's shown plenty of reach-the-seats pop this year: .276-45-15-53. (Brothers in Wigginess: Corey Dickerson, Lucas Duda).
Utility: Brock Holt, Red Sox - Talk about your super-utility players; Holt has played every position this year other than pitcher and catcher. Maybe he'll tick those off in the second half. A slew of things have gone horribly wrong in Boston this summer, but Holt's shocking emergence (.327/.371/.463, 37 runs, six steals in 257 at-bats) is one of the happy stories. He takes intelligent at-bats, and seems comfortable at any defensive position. A very easy player to root for, a breakout story from O-Rank 566.
Starting Pitchers: Jesse Chavez, Athletics; Alfredo Simon, Reds; Charlie Morton, Pirates, Jake Arrieta, Cubs - It's not particularly common to see a relief pitcher make a splash in the rotation, but Chavez and Simon have been exceptions to the rule. In the case of Chavez, let's also give a tip of the cap to pitching coach Curt Young, a miracle worker.
Arrieta's run is stunning for someone with a career ERA in the high-4s, but leaving the hitter-happy AL (and the AL Eastin particular) is generally good for most pitchers.
Morton gets the final nod. We'll give some credit to the pitching coach in-house (Ray Searage), in addition to modern medicine (another successful return from Tommy John surgery). Morton's curve has turned into a way for him to get left-handers out. (Brothers in Wigginess: Jesse Hahn, Garrett Richards, Josh Beckett, Collin McHugh, Chris Young, Jeff Locke, Dallas Keuchel).
Relief Pitchers: Sean Doolittle, Athletics; Zach Britton, Orioles; Wade Davis, Royals
Most teams would prefer to stay away from left-handed closers, but credit the A's and Orioles for being open minded. Doolittle in particular is a wondeful story, a former first baseman who beat out a slew of other closing candidates when Jim Johnson couldn't get the job done.
Britton doesn't have the big strikeout numbers you'd like from a closer, but he gets ground balls and pounds the strike zone - that works. Davis obviously isn't getting the ninth inning for the Royals, but those insane ratios (1.13/0.78) can't be ignored. Quality innings play in every format. (Brothers in Wigginess: Dellin Betances, Jake McGee, Zach Duke.)