Whether he’s a Willing Ham, a Compliant Pig, or just The Pork, outfielder Josh Willingham will be making his bacon in the Twins outfield for the the foreseeable future.*
Jeff Zimmerman has already looked into batted ball profile and found that he became more pull-happy in 2011. That could bode well for his power in the coming year, but let’s look at the contextual clues in order to determine what else we can say about Willingham’s 2012.
First, let’s look at Willingham’s batted ball angle, courtesy baseballheatmaps.com. Negative means he’s pulling more, since left field is -45 degrees.
All those pulled balls led to a a slight tick up in batted ball distance in the second half, and the second-best ISO of his career. He also hit the most fly balls and the most home runs per fly ball of his career.
Willingham might be older than you’d expect. His late start in Florida means that he’s now turning 33 years old and can expect an offensive downgrade in the next couple of years. Then again, he’s also leaving a cavernous park that suppressed home runs by right-handed hitters by 20% according to StatCorner. Target field was a veritable Coors Field in comparison, as it only suppressed home runs by right-handers by 5%. That’s all despite Target field being larger in left field than the Coliseum — but we know that all sorts of different factors come into play in each park.
So Willingham is using a more powerful approach and is going to play half his games in a more power-friendly park. How will the lineup around him help?
Well, the Twins actually scored 26 runs fewer than the Athletics last year. And the Twins had the second-worst wRC+ in the American League (84), so they ‘earned’ that difference. But a healthier year from Joe Mauer, plus an offensive upgrade in left field, could make up some of the difference. Maybe we can call Willingham’s 2012 runs and RBI likely to be about the same as as his 2011 totals.
It’s a shame because it detracts from Willingham’s value. Of the players that hit at least 25 home runs (32 of them), only Mark Trumbo, Mike Stanton, J.J. Hardy, Carlos Pena, Carlos Santana and Corey Hart had a lower run+RBI total.
That list seems to suggest that two factors are at play. Some of the players played well on teams that weren’t so strong offensively (Santana), and most of the players had some problems with making contact. Less contact, fewer balls in play, fewer chances to get on base and score a run or drive a run in.
The strikeouts seem to be a part of his new approach. At least, the two things happened at the same time and his strikeouts are backed by the second-worst swinging strike rate of his career. Most hitting coaches will also tell you that pulling the ball and strikeouts are related. It’s hard to cover the outside of the plate if you are looking for balls to pull on the inside of the plate.
If he continues his high-whiff, high-power approach, his lack of runs and RBI, along with his lower batting average, should conspire to mute his fantasy upside. His team might not make much of a difference, but his park could help. Either way, he’s more of a late sleeper because of his flaws. At least he’ll be a willing pig in your corral.
* Thanks to Jason Wojciechowski for clearing those nicknames up. Also, I apologize.