Josh Willingham: Emerging Power Hitter

Marilyn Indahl - Getty Images

At the age of 33, Twins outfielder Josh Willingham has set career highs in home runs, runs and RBI. Can he duplicate this in 2013?

When ranking my Top 20 Outfielders for 2013, I ranked Twins outfielders Josh Willingham as my 15th ranked outfielder, which may be high, but he has been a very consistent power hitter since moving over to the American League. I have to say I was a little surprised to see how productive he has been this season.

Let's take a look at his career stats, courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

Year Age Tm G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2004 25 FLA 12 25 2 5 0 0 1 1 0 0 4 8 .200 .310 .320 .630 68
2005 26 FLA 16 23 3 7 1 0 0 4 0 0 2 5 .304 .407 .348 .755 107
2006 27 FLA 142 502 62 139 28 2 26 74 2 0 54 109 .277 .356 .496 .852 121
2007 28 FLA 144 521 75 138 32 4 21 89 8 1 66 122 .265 .364 .463 .827 115
2008 29 FLA 102 351 54 89 21 5 15 51 3 2 48 82 .254 .364 .470 .834 117
2009 30 WSN 133 427 70 111 29 0 24 61 4 3 61 104 .260 .367 .496 .863 127
2010 31 WSN 114 370 54 99 19 2 16 56 8 0 67 85 .268 .389 .459 .848 129
2011 32 OAK 136 488 69 120 26 0 29 98 4 1 56 150 .246 .332 .477 .810 121
2012 33 MIN 145 519 85 135 30 1 35 110 3 2 76 141 .260 .366 .524 .890 145
9 Yrs 944 3226 474 843 186 14 167 544 32 9 434 806 .261 .362 .483 .845 125
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2012.

The 33 year old outfielder is hitting for more power since his move to the AL, and doing it in two ballparks that are considered pitcher friendly. In 2011, he hit 29 home runs in Oakland, one of the best pitchers parks in baseball. This season, he is having the best year of his career, as he is hitting .260-.366-.524 with 35 home runs, 85 runs and 110 RBI. The HR, runs scored and RBI are all career highs for Willingham. In addition, he is two doubles away from tying his career high in doubles (32). He has also set a career high in ISO (.264) and SLG (.524), ranking seventh and twelfth amongst all qualified hitters according to FanGraphs.
He is doing this in Target Field that is just slightly better than league average for home runs allowed, but is Top 12 in runs scored this season. I have to imagine some of that is due to the poor performance from the Twins starting pitchers. Even more impressive is that he has hit 21 of his 35 home runs at home this season.

Willingham has improved his plate discipline at the plate this season, as his walk rate has jumped from 9.9% in 2011 to 12.4% this season. In addition, his strikeout rate has dropped from 26.6% to 22.9%. His home run total has benefitted from a career high HR/FB rate of 21.2% vs a career average of 15.5%.

The question for fantasy owners, in 2013, is whether he can repeat his 35 HR-110 RBI season or whether this was a career year for him. For me, I think he will be good for 30 HRs, 95 RBI and a .255 batting average in 2013.


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