30 Players in 30 Days: Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham handshake.jpgNationals fans had to say goodbye to Josh Willingham nearly two months early this season due to a nagging knee injury. It first forced Willingham out of the lineup and then to the operating table for season-ending surgery on August 18. Willingham said the pain started in April, but by looking at the numbers, no one would have ever guessed it. He opened up the first week of the season with a home run, seven RBI and five walks in six games–not to mention a .421 batting average, a .520 on base percentage and a .684 slugging percentage. He didn’t stop there. In an impressive month of May, he hit seven homers and drove in 22 runs on the way to a 1.037 OPS.

Willingham played brilliantly throughout the first half of the season, bringing himself into the All-Star conversation while maintaining a 30-home run, 100-RBI pace to go along with improved, solid defense with only one error committed. He isn’t known for making dazzling, over-the-wall catches like Nyjer Morgan, or blasting monstrous long balls as far as Adam Dunn, but for what it’s worth, Willingham still makes the catches and still hits the home runs. Why else would they call him “The Hammer”? But his play, much like his personality, often flies under the radar. He’s the good guy who gets the job done quietly.

Willingham has been the model of consistency since he started receiving regular playing time in the Majors in 2006 for the Marlins. He has maintained an OPS in the .800s for five consecutive years, and his home run production has remained steady–over six years, he averages a home run every 21 at bats, never wavering much higher or lower from year to year.

Willingham is a reliable, solid all-around player who can be counted on to contribute in a variety of ways. He’s powerful enough to rip the long ball, yet patient enough to wait for a good pitch–he swung at just 39.1 percent of the pitches he saw this year and led all Nationals with a .389 on base percentage. Unlike the average power hitter, he racks up walks, not strikeouts. He’s quick and smart enough to steal, collecting eight stolen bags on the season before being shut down early. Willingham is no one-trick pony and that could make for a raise in arbitration this offseason.

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