After the 2008 season, Ty Wigginton was a relatively surprising non-tender by the Houston Astros, as he was worth 3.2 WAR in the preceding season. He's a versatile defender that can play all of the infield positions (except SS) at a below average level and both of the outfield corners at an above average level, he was coming off of three consecutive seasons with 22+ home runs, and he flashed better plate discipline than he ever had in regular playing time.
The Orioles scooped up Wigginton on a two-year, $6M deal, as teams were seriously concerned with some huge home/road splits from his career year. At Minute Maid Park, Wigginton posted a .455 wOBA with 15 HR in 195 PA, compared to a .304 wOBA with 8 HR and 234 PA on the road. Clearly, Wigginton benefited from the confines of Houston's home park, which fit his offensive game well. Wiggy prompted fell flat on his face in 2009, posting a .311 wOBA and a -0.6 WAR on the year.
Apparently, Ty felt bad, because he's out to make good on Baltimore's investment while presumably making himself a good amount of money when he hits free agency again after the season. He's off to a .289/.381/.663 start, good for a .432 wOBA, with the best walk-to-strikeout ratio of his career. This year, Wigginton has filled in at first, second and third, continuing his pattern of posting below average defensive numbers, but even so he's a valuable player if he can prove to be a solidly above average hitter.
There are a few things about Wigginton's numbers that particularly leave me believing that he'll end this season with some pretty good numbers, which I go into detail about after the hip hop.
1. He's only got a .246 BABIP
Yeah, he's doing all of this with a 12% line drive rate and a .246 BABIP, far below his near league average .296 career mark. Even if his power (.373 isolated power) declines some, presumably he'll get a few more hits to drop in as well, so his decline from this level presumably shouldn't be as steep as one would expect. He's got a career line drive rate of 19%, and presumably as his 2010 mark gets closer to that, he'll see his BABIP rise.
2. He's swinging and missing significantly less
I've heard this a lot lately, but as Russell Carleton noted, a player's swing percentages can actually become pretty reliable after only 50 plate appearances or so. Even during Wigginton's career year, he swung and missed 13.2% of the time, and his career mark is 11.9%. This season, he's cut that number down to 9.9%, and he's making more contact on balls in the zone than he ever has before.
3. Remember 2006 through 2008?
Because, for that period of time, Wigginton was actually a pretty good hitter. For that period, he was worth roughly 10.5 runs above average per 600 plate appearances over the course of slightly more than 1500 times to the plate. He had good power, with at least 22 home runs and 46 extra-base hits in each season, and while he didn't walk particularly often, he never batted below .275 in any season. He was never a star, but he was a pretty useful hitter for three straight years.
4. He's killing right-handers
Of Wigginton's 9 home runs this season, 8 of them have come against right-handed pitchers. He's crushing them to the tune of a .469 wOBA, which is surprising for a guy who has traditionally shown more power and performed all-around better against lefties. And it can't be attributed to BABIP either, his .214 BABIP against RHP is worse than his average .292 mark against LHP. Wigginton always walked more against lefties, roughly 10% of the time compared to slightly less than 6% of the time against righties, but this season his walk rate against righties is up to 9% while he's maintained his near 10% mark against lefties.
Wigginton has definitely been lucky this season on some level, that 32% HR/FB is way off from his 13% career mark and the 18% mark that he posted in his career year. But even so, it appears that he's made some adjustments from last season and is line for potentially the best offensive output of his career. ZiPS now has Wigginton projected to finish the year with a career-best .372 wOBA and 26 home runs in 478 plate appearances. Even if he falls somewhat short of those numbers, this has to be considered a pretty nice bounce back for a guy that most projections pegged for a wOBA in the .330-.345 range. Even with his below average defense, he's now projected to be +15 or +20 on offense, and that makes Wigginton an awfully useful player.