Maybe I’ve been surfing the web a little too much. Maybe becoming Stewart Cink’s 559,250th follower on Twitter has addled my brain. But today I thought I would take a look at three players whose last names begin with W, and do so for the win, or not, as the case may be. Hey, at least this intro was a little better than my last one, eh?
Josh Willingham – The offense around him is not good. Eric Seidman pointed out at the beginning of June that all of his nine home runs were solo home runs – threatening the ‘record’ for solo home run percentage set by Curtis Granderson in 2007 (21 out of 23). Well, Willingham has finally hit a non-solo home run – but only one. So you probably don’t pick Willingham up for RBI, but it’s also starting to look like his mini power breakout is for real. He’s shown the on-base skills before (12.9% BB% this year, 11.2% career), and his .317 BABIP (.306 career) does not portend a quick and painful slump in the future. Could the new power be as simple as the fact that his new park is helping him out? Park factors are not always stable from year to year, so this year’s half season, in which Florida’s stadium is giving up more home runs than Washington’s, is less relevant when put against that same stadium’s consistent pitcher-friendly park factors. Take last year, for instance, and Washington’s stadium gave up 10% more home runs and doubles as Willingham’s old park. Of course, his .545 slugging percentage is over 10% better than his career slugging percentage in Florida (.432), but Willingham is 30 and could easily be peaking this year. Wonky math aside, Willingham will get his chance to prove that he is who he thinks he is – in Washington or elsewhere.
Josh Whitesell – The Diamondbacks finally got savvy to their lost season and began to look to the future at first base. With Conor Jackson still laid low by his mysterious illness, and with Tony Clark shown the door (and over to the Mets perhaps?), Whitesell gets his chance. His consistently high strikeout rates in the minors (ranging from 22% to 26% before this year) have led to inconsistent batting averages (ranging from .264 to .328). But this year he finally cut the rate down below 20% and had a good followup to last year’s career best .328/.425/.568 AAA debut. He’s only two years younger than incumbent Chad Tracy, but Tracy’s declining OPS and difficulty staying on the field are both reasons that Whitesell may have a window to take over the position if he starts out hot. His 23% strikeout rate in his 62 major-league at-bats this year bodes well, even if he hasn’t shown the power yet.
Cory Wade – Wade’s story is a sad story that we’ve all heard before: Young, promising reliever debuts on a veteran team led by Joe Torre, who goes on to ride that young arm to the postseason without a look at the usage stats and patterns or a care for the reliever’s future. Call Scott Proctor for details, but Wade is on the DL with a sore shoulder and it all sounds too familiar. With all the research about starters’ usage and their development, perhaps a little more attention could go to the blue-collar workers out in the pen. Torre is, once again, using his relievers more than any other manager in the league, and Ramon Troncoso and Ronald Belisario are the new Cory Wades. They, like Wade, are among league leaders in relief appearances. Like Wade (71.1 IP), Torre’s new toys are on pace to rack up big innings totals (Troncoso – 102 IP pace, Belisario – 86 IP pace). Like he did with Wade and Proctor before, will Torre break his newest toys?