Were you aware that Josh Willingham led the Athletics in homers (29) and RBI (98) in 2011? Or how about this. Willingham hit more homers than Carlos Gonzalez (26) and had more RBI than Hunter Pence (97) in 2011. Not bad you say? That’s a good way to describe Willingham – he’s not a difference maker, but as a depth bat, ideally he’d be a six place hitter on a championship level team, he’s not bad at all. Well, the Twins decided that Willingham was the bat for them as they agreed to a 3-year deal for $21 million so that he could be their right-handed power behind Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau (Michael Cuddyer, a player you can read about in this Player Profile, was that right-handed bat the last few years but he’s now a Colorado Rockie). Did they make a wise choice?
The issue with Willingham is always the same, it’s his track record of back woes and ill health. In 2006-07 Willingham appeared in 142 and 144 games, but since that time he’s never been back to that level and, moreover, he’s averaged just 121 games the past four years. It’s tough for a guy to be one of the centerpiece weapons of your club if he misses one of every four games. As a result of all the missed games, Josh has hit 20 homers in only two of the last four years. However, since the start of the 2006 season he has averaged 22 homers a year or 25 homers per 500 at-bats. What he did last season, spending half his games in a ballpark in Oakland that doesn’t do hitters any homer favors, was an impressive feat (he hit 15 of his homers at home in 2011). I’ll say this though. He’s unlikely to hit 30 homers in a season unless he does get 500 at-bats because his HR/F ratio for his career is solid at 14.5 percent but far from imposing (it also doesn’t help much to learn that Target Field had mere the 8th best Park Indices for an AL park for homers by right-handed batters).
As for his batting average, that isn’t likely to improve much, especially if he repeats what he did last year. Did he expand his strike zone and start swinging for homers? It seems that way. After posting a BB/K mark of at least 0.50 in 5-straight years that number fell to a career worst 0.37 last year. That’s not a number that speaks to a strong the potential of posting a solid batting average. It’s also unlikely that he will hit much better than his .262 career rate for two main reasons. (1) He strikes out too much with over 20 percent of his at-bats resulting in a walk back to the dugout. (2) Just look at the back of his ball card. He hasn’t hit better than .268 in five years.
Willingham has a nice power bat but there are also plenty of concerns about his inability to remain on the field (again, he’s averaged less than 125 games a season the past four years). Willingham also is a rather average outfielder who is already 33 years old. Adding that up it’s probably not a great bet to lay down that he will repeat his 2011 numbers in 2012. It’s certainly possible, but there are enough concerns here that Willingham makes a much more attractive addition in a single league than in a mixed league setup for 2012. Still, Willingham is one of those guys you can add in mixed leagues as your 4th or 5th outfielder if you are comfortable with assuming the risk. If he reaches expectations you will be fine with what he gives you, but if he fails to deliver you can always go to the waiver-wire and pick up a guy like Ryan Ludwick or Garret Jones to help out your squad in the power department.
By Ray Flowers