By Tommy Rancel //
With a slash line of .244/.328/.446, Josh Willingham appears to be having a pretty average season. Meanwhile, his 35 RBI in 48 games puts him in the top 10 of American League run producers – just one RBI behind notable sluggers like Jose Bautista, Miguel Cabrera, and Mark Teixeria. Considering he has around 20 plate appearances less than those names, Willingham has been quite the run producer while flying below the radar in most fantasy leagues.
Playing for a team that scores less than four runs a game, Willingham has made the most of his opportunity to drive runs in. In fact, Willingham’s at-bat-to-RBI ratio is second best in the league behind Jose Bautista. Of all his baserunners, 17% of them have scored which is above the league average of 14%.
Although the Oakland A’s have struggled to score, Willingham is projected for some benchmark fantasy numbers. With nine home runs in 171 at-bats, he is on pace for more than 25 bombs should he get 500 at-bats this season. If he continues to drive in runs as he has during the first two months, he will top the 100 RBI mark while scoring 60-plus runs on his own.
While several outfielders like Jason Bay, Austin Jackson, and Nick Swisher, are hitting the waiver wire for performance issues, Josh Willingham provides a cheap alternative. Mike Morse currently leads the rush for waiver wire outfield eligible players; however, Willingham comes with a larger track record of success and more job security. Considering Melky Cabrera –a player with less home runs, RBI, and lower on-base percentage – is owned in nearly 100% of leagues, you could be missing production that is just waiting to be claimed.
Not everything about Willingham is good. For one, he does have some injury concerns. He has played more than 130 games just once over the past three seasons, but appears to be healthy now. He will not hit for much more than a .250 average, but has shown a willingness to walk in the past giving him a solid on-base percentage. He has hit more than 20 home runs in a season three times, and as mentioned above, he is on pace to do so once again.
The negative injury history could manifest at some point; especially considering his age (31). Meanwhile, the cost of a waiver claim and an OF3 spot does not come with a hefty price tag. With the opportunity for 50-plus extra-base hits, 100 RBI, and another 60 runs scored, Willingham could be one of the sneakier pickups in 2011. If you have an opening, strike now. If not, keep an eye on his progress and if/when the opportunity presents itself (injury or trading a similar player on your roster to strengthen a position of weakness), remember Josh Willingham’s name as a low-cost run-producing source with decent power on top of that.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight sign-up at BloombergSports.com