MLB Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins: Is Josh Willingham Ready to Break Out of His Slump?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

 

Josh Willingham had a nice first season with the Minnesota Twins in 2012, setting career-highs in home runs (35) and RBI (110) as well as, perhaps most notably, games played (145) and plate appearances (615).

But 2013 has not gone well to this point for the 34-year old outfielder. He hit his first home run since April 29 off Atlanta Braves starter Julio Teheran on Monday night, and Willingham has obviously struggled (.140 with six RBI) thus far in May and is hitting just .200 with six home runs and 19 RBI so far this season. But could a turnaround be coming? Let’s dig deeper into Willingham’s numbers.

Willingham’s batting average on balls in play (.250) is lower than it’s been the past two seasons (.287 in both 2011 and 2012), but he is hitting essentially the same amount of ground balls (37.8 percent this season; 38 percent in 2012) and he is actually hitting more fly balls (50 percent so far this season, 43 percent last season). But Willingham’s home run/fly ball rate, 15 percent so far this season, was due for a correction after being a career-best 21 percent in 2012, and he is also hitting far fewer line drives (12 percent this season; 19 percent in 2012). Weaker contact overall has led to some bad luck, and yielded the dismal surface numbers Willingham has put up to this point.

Looking at Willlingham’s 2012 season, he hit just .220 in May but did hit five home runs while driving in 20. He improved some in June (.255, seven home runs and 17 RBI) before having his best month of the season in July (.283, 11 home runs and 27 RBI) . That fits well with his career body of work, as Willingham has a .242 career batting average in May before improving his production overall in June, July and August.

Willingham’s profile as a right-handed power hitter who predominantly pulls the ball makes him prone to hot and cold streaks, and that is unlikely to change at this point in his career. Time will tell if Monday night’s home run is the start of a prolonged hot streak, but I don’t expect him to get close to last season’s home run and RBI totals without a significant (and unrealistic) shift in his peripheral numbers. The Twins can hope for a strong run of production from Willingham over the next couple months, which would enhance his value on the trade market ahead of July’s deadline.

Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.