Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Why did the Cardinals sign Ty Wigginton?

Other than to squeeze out a semi-nightly malaprop from Mike Shannon, who has never been able to pronounce Ty Wigginton‘s surname as anything other than “Wiggington,” what possible reason could the Cardinals have for signing the journeyman to a two-year contract?

The portly pinch-hitter may fit the profile of a right-hand power hitter based on what he once was, but his recent performance indicates that he’ll be a dubious investment for any amount of money, let alone $5 million over two years.

Here’s an idea: Wigginton’s name is occasionally followed with the modifier “Cardinal killer,” and we fear that he may be the latest example of the possible application by GMs of the availability heuristic, which, according to the generally accurate Wikipedia:

a mental shortcut that occurs when people make judgments about the probability of events by the ease with which examples come to mind.

Another way of putting it might be to say that we tend to prize our own experiences above what we can only read about: If the Cardinals witness a certain player knocking the ball around the park against them, they might expect that the player is likely to do the same thing generally.

Now John Mozeliak and his staff are smart people. But even smart people are subject to the availability heuristic. Check out Wigginton’s career numbers overall and vs. the team who just signed him:

BA OBP SLG
Career overall .263 .324 .438
Career vs. STL .290 .357 .461

Judging by the numbers, the availability heuristic appears to be a reasonable excuse. Hey, we tried.

Derrick Goold quotes Mozeliak as wanting “that veteran presence late in the game.” But a “veteran presence” isn’t going to create runs without the help of a reasonable on-base percentage, something that Wigginton has not exhibited since 2008. If the Cardinals wanted someone with an OBP in the .310s and a high strikeout rate, they could’ve kept Tyler Greene for a lot less money. Not to mention that he had the additional assets of speed and defense.

Now it’s true that we should assess Wigginton in the role for which he has been hired. So a league-average (NL hitters had a .318 OBP/.400 SLG in 2012) is actually about all you can ask for in a pinch-hitter (Bill James project Wigginton at .314/.397). Still, one of the unseen consequences of the contract is the fact that it’s for two years. That means that the Cardinals, unless they understand the concept of sunk cost, will reserve a roster spot for Wigginton for the next two seasons. In this way, every one of his at-bats represents an opportunity cost: Every time he brings his .314 OBP to the plate, he precludes someone like Matt Carpenter (or, in 2014, some other up-and-comer) from hitting.

Ty Wigginton may have been a productive hitter once (3.1 WAR at his peak) and should be a serviceable limited-role player for a season. The cost — both in real money and opportunity — may be more than the Cardinals bargained for.

 

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