Josh Willingham has played for three different teams in the last three years. Chances are he’s also made the rounds in your fantasy league as well.
And that’s because Willingham has proven himself to be a borderline top-100 player (or better), yet no one really has any intention of valuing him that highly. You could even say we’re guilty of that with our 2013 projection (.261, 28 HR, 93 RBI). To reach those marks in the projected 145 games played, Willingham could finish with a lower HR/FB rate than he’s posted in either of the last two years while performing slightly above average as a clean-up hitter.
The problem with projecting (and drafting) Willingham is that his last two years are far and away better than what he’d done in the prior five. Before 2011, his two best seasons in homers were 26 and 24, and his two best seasons in RBI were 89 and 74. While it’s much more likely that he continues being the player we’ve seen in his last 281 games, I still think it’s prudent to be cautiously optimistic.
Besides, the 2013 line we project would still be right up there with 2011 and 2012 and far better than anything else he’d done from 2006-2011.
At a Glance
Strengths: HR, RBI, BB, OBP, SLG, OPS
Neutral: R, BA
Weaknesses: SB, K
Best-case scenario: Jay Bruce (CIN)
Likely scenario: Nelson Cruz (TEX), Ike Davis (NYM), Mark Trumbo (LAA)
Worst-case scenario: Alfonso Soriano (CHC)
Josh Willingham 2013 Fantasy Projection
Last year Willingham saw his HR/FB rate jump all the way to 21.2% from his previous career high of 17.5% in 2011. Given how Oakland (where he played in 2011) has a park factor for home runs of 89 to right-handed batters and Minnesota checks in at 103, it’s not surprising that Willingham’s HR/FB rate increased, but is he really a perennial 20%+ guy in a league-average park? I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I’d like to see him do it one more time before I’m willing to draft him for it.
That’s especially true because Willingham won’t provide a good average or steal many bases. He’s a true 2.5-category contributor (HR, RBI, half-contributor in R), so if the homers aren’t piling up then he’s more like the 200th-best player in fantasy and not borderline top-100.
One place you can count on Willingham contributing is OBP/OPS leagues. Last year he walked 12.4% of the time and posted a .366 OBP compared to a .260 batting average, one of the widest gaps in the league. He also has a career .361 OBP and slugged over .500 last year for the first time (.524), so he’s also a great player to target in OPS leagues.