Josh Willingham was supposed to be over this slump.
Well, at least the Minnesota Twins hoped so, anyway. Headed into the first day of May, their $7 million man had pulled his average back to a somewhat respectable .250, and his OPS to an elite .944 thanks to a power display of three homers and a double over the final six days of the month.
Then the calendar turned over, and as if almost on cue thanks to some sort of baseball narrative force, the outfielder’s production started going south again.
If you wanted an example to illustrate how a walk isn’t necessary as valuable as a hit, you’d just have to look at Willingham’s .107/.375/.179 line over the first 10 days of May thus far. Pitchers are not giving him a whole lot to hit, and he’s taking advantage of it with an incredible 25 percent walk rate … but when he’s trying to put his bat on the ball, things have essentially gone nowhere.
So as crazy as it’s been that he’s draw a walk in all but one game out of his last nine, his counting numbers this month (four runs, two RBIs, no home runs) have not been anything close to what might be expected of arguably the only 30-home run threat in the lineup.
Part of the problem has been his discipline. His contact rate is down to a six-year low of 73.7 percent, and he’s swinging at more outside pitchers than prior (19.6 percent, also six-year high). Combined with his hesitance to attack pitches in the zone (52.4 percent, career-low in PITCHf/x era), and you get a picture of someone who is very good at drawing walks, but hasn’t adjusted to being pitched around.
Ironically enough, the Twins’ offense has done just fine in spite of it, with 50 runs scored over the past seven days (tied for first in MLB) thank in part to the contributions from guys like Oswaldo Arcia, who has come in and provided a spark.
Still, that’s not likely to last; and when it slows, there’s going to be a whole lot more attention paid to the void in the heart of the order, where Willingham is going to have to start producing to help keep the Twins in the race … lest he wants to be the first out of town in the summer as a trade chip, in any case.