Willingham’s Best Season Ends Prematurely

Although it has been partially silenced by the media markets and poor teams in Florida and Washington, Josh Willingham has been one of the most consistently good players in Major League Baseball since 2006. This year, Willingham was on pace to have his best season by WAR and easily his best offensive season by wOBA and wRC+ until a knee injury requiring surgery sidelined him on Thursday. The surgery will force Willingham to miss the rest of the 2010 season.

Willingham has distinguished himself as a solid hitter thanks to above average walk rates and power to go with average contact skills. He has never been below 15 homers in a season since 2006 and has posted a walk rate above 10% every season since 2007. Willingham’s limited defense in the corners prevents him from having a truly star-level impact, but that skillset makes him a 2-3 win player.

Through 450 plate appearances in 2010, Willingham accrued 2.7 WAR, thanks to a career best 137 wRC+. Willingham’s power was down, but an increase in walk rate to 14.9% more than made up for it. ZiPS even saw new heights for Willingham, expecting the power to return and the walk rate to remain high. CHONE isn’t quite as optimstic, projecting a .261/.371/.461 line as opposed to the .263/.370/.500 line projected by ZiPS. With either of those lines, Willingham was looking at a 3.5 WAR season if he could stay healthy.

Unfortunately both for Willingham and his teams, injuries have been a factor in his career. Willingham has only reached 600 plate appearances once in his career, back in 2007. Only twice since 2006 has he reached 500 plate appearances, and the 2010 season marks the second time that he will finish between 400 and 500. Despite this, he has provided great value in these five seasons, delivering his team 12.5 WAR while making only $8.6 million dollars.

Willingham is about to become expensive, as he can probably expect something in the $7-10 million range in his third year of arbitration and then will hit the free agent market before his age 33 season. He should continue to be a solid performer for at least a few more years, but it will be interesting to see how the Nationals, who don’t look like a contender in 2011, handle Willingham. Will they attempt to sign him to an extension? Does he leave in a deadline deal, or does he bring back free agent compensation as Rizzo is attempting with Adam Dunn?

Hopefully, Willingham’s injury doesn’t impact his long term ability. If it doesn’t, whether it’s with Washington or with some other team, Willingham is a good bet to provide value in 2011 and beyond.



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Dan
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Dan
5 years 9 months ago

Bad news for the big guy. I was loving his breakout year.

Heres to hoping he continues his break-out in 2011

Don
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Don
5 years 9 months ago

I think he was perviously referred to as a lesser-known Jason Bay by another Fangraphs author. Pretty good assessment as far as I’ve seen, especially in the first half of 2010.

Will
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Will
5 years 9 months ago

He had a truly stellar first half. .281/.411/.502

I don’t know how much injuries played a part in it, but his offensive production disappeared after the All Star break (.225/.314/.326). News reports indicate he’s been playing through the injury for some time now, so it seems like it may have had some impact.

Also, his UZR was hovering around 0 until recently. I’d suspect the meniscus tear limited his mobility quite a bit and caused his UZR to plummet to -6.6.

Pat
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Pat
5 years 9 months ago

He was doing very well until I traded for him in my fantasy league, one of the many players that happens to annually.

He seems like a solid piece though, and I hope he’ll bounce back because I have been rooting for the Nats to turn it around.

Lintyfresh
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5 years 9 months ago

Rizzo isn’t trying to get back Draft Pick compensation for Dunn, he’s trying to re-sign him.

SK
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SK
5 years 9 months ago

I have one thing to say to this article: Luke Scott gets no respect.

zylwer
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zylwer
5 years 9 months ago

I second that.

PhD Brian
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PhD Brian
5 years 9 months ago

why should he?

SK
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SK
5 years 9 months ago

He and Willingham are almost the same player, statistically. Scott hits for a bit more power and a bit less OBP. Career OPS+? 123 for Scott, 121 for Willingham. Scott has performed over 4.5 years, ages 28-32. Willingham has done it for 5 years, ages 27-31.

If “Willingham has been one of the most consistently good players in Major League Baseball since 2006”, so has Luke Scott.

His WAR is hurt because Baltimore plays him at DH instead of LF, so he doesn’t get defensive credit, but he’s a perfectly capable left fielder.

Jason B
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Jason B
5 years 9 months ago

?!? You probably won’t find any respect for him in an article about Josh Willingham, dear.

Souldrummer
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5 years 9 months ago

I think the Nats will bring him back. If you don’t, you have to live with a major drop off in production because of the lack of depth in their system. Phillies can let Jayson Werth go because they’ve got Domonic Brown waiting in the wings. Rays can let Crawford go because they’ve got Jennings waiting in the wings. The Nats have nobody in their system right now who they could hope would be credible in left field. They should be considering adding a free agent in the outfield right now who is an upgrade over their current outfielders and can move Roger Bernadina or Nyjer Morgan to 4th outfielder status next year.

Hopefully, that free agent outfielder plus Bryce Harper coming in 2012 or 2013 would make it almost unnecessary to pay Willingham as he goes up for free agency, and he’s a good deadline piece to trade next year. I do realize that the Nats may have made a mistake by not selling high before the all-star break with Willingham, but I think they genuinely like the guy and didn’t want to risk the consequences of dipping towards one-hundred losses again with their fragile infant fanbase.

Petey Bienel
Member
Petey Bienel
5 years 9 months ago

Because the major issue with Willingham has been his health, perhaps the Nats offer a 2 year contract with a vesting option for a 3d based on games played. Perhaps something along the lines of $15MM for 2 years, with a $10MM ($1 MM buyout) option that becomes guaranteed with > 1100 PAs over 2 years or > 600 PAs in 2012. At that kind of money, Willingham is tradeable if 2 of Burgess / Hood / Harper are ready by the end of 2012 / start of 2013. That’s about 5 WAR over the first two years (with a discount for the multiple years). If he’s healthy enough to trigger the guarantees, then he’s worth the last year (figuring $4 MM a win, which I think is higher than last year).

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