Josh Willingham: 2012 Sleeper

Josh Willingham had his best major league season last year with the Oakland A’s. He is now a free agent this off season and has yet to find a new home. No matter where he ends up, he looks to be a great sleeper pick for 2012.

Before playing for the A’s last season, Josh spent time with both the Nationals and Marlins. The right-handed-hitter had several decent seasons with 20+ HRs and around a 0.270 AVG. In 2011, he had his best power season with 29 HRs and a career high 0.232 ISO.

His bump in power could be seen as a random lucky season. As I noticed last week, the 32-year-old has changed where he hits fly balls and home runs. He is now pulling the ball more with increase distance.

Besides the data presented in that article, here is another look at the change in where he hits the ball.

Here is where he hit the ball in 2010:

And now 2011:

He hit the ball to all fields in 2010, but hit it to RF less in 2011. By taking advantage of short left field porches, he was able to boost his home run numbers.

His plate discipline did change for the worse in 2011. From 2004, when he entered the league, to 2010, his BB% averaged 11.6%. In 2011, it was down to 9.9% Also, his strikeout rate got worse going from an average of 19.8% from 2004 to 2010 to 26.6% in 2011. The main cause for his drop in plate discipline was his inability to make contact with pitches he swung at. The percentage of pitches he missed outside of the strike zone dropped by 3% (60% to 57%). Pitches in the strike zone dropped by 5% (87.6% to 82.4%). Without watching him too much this season to verify, the stats seem to show a hitter trading off a little plate discipline to hit the ball harder.

The main problem with a drop in plate discipline is that a player’s AVG and/or OBP will take a hit. Both dropped in 2011 for Josh as seen by career lows (0.246/0.332) in both categories (min 100 PA).

Josh has little if any speed and expect maybe a half dozen or so SBs from him in 2012.

I like the potential for Josh Willingham to have a great 2012 season. He began pulling the ball with more power in 2011. If continues this trend into 2012, he may a steal on draft or auction day. An owner just needs to know of the decline in plate discipline.

Thanks to texasleaguers.com for the spray charts.




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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

6 Responses to “Josh Willingham: 2012 Sleeper”

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  1. wiersNRAF says:

    Let me just say that as an A’s fan, I am utterly shocked to see that 2011 spray chart. I would have bet everything that he had 0 infield hits this year.

    Would SLGCON make more sense to see him pulling the ball with more power? Divide the field into thirds and then measure SLGCON?

    We need Hit f/x.

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  2. ernie king says:

    Love Joshey, but he was my sleeper pick LAST year :p

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  3. Joe says:

    It looks like the Phillies may no longer be an option, with Thome and Wiggy in tow. Back to the Nats, perhaps?

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