Last season only two outfielders in major league baseball had more RBIs than Josh Willingham while only four outfielders hit more homers than Willingham. In retrospect it was a bad decision to view Willingham as nothing more a mid round draft pick in fantasy baseball on draft day in 2012 (many expected the move to Minnesota to erode his value somewhat). Should that view be changed, that Willingham is nothing more than a solid option for 2013, or should he be an early round draft pick because of the power that led to 35 homers and 110 RBIs last season?
By the way, Josh Hamilton (128) and Ryan Braun (112) had more RBIs. Hamilton (43), Curtis Granderson (43), Braun (41) and Ginacarlo Stanton (37) had more homers. As I also pointed out the other day in Things You Should Know, his production last season leaves a very favorable impression when his numbers are compared to those of Giancarlo Stanton.
Here is what I know.
Willingham set a career-high in homers in ’12. He had never hit 30 homers in a season before with his previous best being 29 in 2011.
Second, Willingham set a career-high with 110 RBIs. He had never reached 100 RBIs before (98 in 2011).
Third, Willingham set a career-high with 85 runs scored. His previous best was 75 back in 2007.
Part of the reason for all those counting category high’s is that he set a career best with 145 games played in his seventh season (his 615 plate appearances were also a career best). It should be noted though that this fella has failed to reach 525 at-bats in any season as a big league player (just pointing that out). Willingham has long been an injury risk and just cause he was out there a lot in 2013 shouldn’t cause you to forget that since he became a full-time player he has averaged 131 games a season meaning that over the past seven years he’s averaged a full month of missed games. That’s something you need to keep in mind when evaluating Willingham.
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As for the power, the guy does have 64 bombs the past two years, so it’s pretty hard to write his pop off as something anomalous. It’s also pretty impressive that he hit 29 homers in 2011 in Oakland and 35 in Minnesota in 2012 despite Park Factors in the home run column of 26th and 14th. Neither park is a homer haven by any means. The fact is that Josh has posted HR/F marks of 17.5 and 21.2 percent the past two years, both big numbers (career 15.5). I won’t say it’s a pace he can’t sustain though as he has proven that he can have that level of success. He also hits a lot of fly balls, over 48 percent in two of the last three seasons, so his homer total pretty much rests upon how many games played he can drag his body out onto the field.
IF Willingham can remain healthy, he still has three major issues in the fantasy game.
(1) He isn’t a very good all-around hitter. A career .261 hitter, Josh has hit better than .268 only once in seven years (.277 in 2006). He’s consistently league average. That’s all he is.
(2) He never steals a base. For his career he’s swiped 32 bases, and in four of the past five years he’s been limited to four or fewer thefts.
(3) He plays in the outfield, a position that has a lot of strong hitters, so his offensive exploits aren’t over the top good, especially with no base stealing speed and an inability to do anything other than match the league average in batting average. He’s just not an exciting player, especially when you toss into the mix his injury filled history.
I’m not saying Willingham is useless, he’s far from that. You can’t be useless if you are 11th in baseball with 64 homers the past two years and 8th in RBIs (208) – eighth (who knew?). But consider that he is tied for 55th in runs (154), is 92nd in batting average (.253) and 133rd in steals (15 tied with seven others). Toss in the fact that’s he’s failed to play 140 games in four of the past five years and that he plays outfield, and there just isn’t the pull for his services that you might think there should be. Willingham is a solid add for a club, but don’t go reaching or you will end up being disappointed (there is a chance others will view him the same way and he will fall on draft day in which case he would become a solid target – it’s all about the cost with this slugger).
- Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the 2013 BaseballGuys Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide which is now available. Nearly 150 pages of insight to help you dominate the competition in 2013.
By Ray Flowers