Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Doesn't Anyone Like Josh Willingham Sam I Am?

Last week Boz gave us his plan for what to do with Josh Willingham. Trade him with Nick Johnson for Howie Kendrick and Jose Arredondo! But of course! Why didn't Rizzo think of that?!?

Because there's no way in hell that the Angels would ever make that deal. None. Arredondo is a budding closer-in-waiting who can hit 97 mph and is coming off a 61-inning, 1.42 ERA rookie year. Howie Kendrick is one of the most natural-hitting second-base prospects in years, a solid defender, and at 25 has virtually unlimited upside. It would take more than Johnson and Willingham to get just Kendrick, forget Arredondo.

This article is the latest in a line of pieces (many by Boz) that dramatically overstate Willingham's trade value.

First, let's remember that Willingham this past off season was in fact traded by the Marlins with Scott Olsen for Emilio Bonifacio, Jake Smolinski, and P.J. Dean. As many have noted, the Marlins were motivated to make the deal to dump Olsen and Willingham's arb-eligible salaries, but you can bet that if any team had offered more, that the Marlins would have gotten more. This is a pretty good gauge of Willingham's trade value, like it or not.

Boz thinks there are a lot of teams that would really improve with Willingham in left, giving us a whole list of players he's never heard of:
How bad is baseball's current crop of left fielders? Obscurity for $100, Alex. Who are Nyjer Morgan, Fred Lewis, Chase Headley, Seth Smith, Endy Chávez, Travis Snider, Félix Pie, Chris Dickerson, Fernando Tatís, Ben Francisco, David DeJesús, David Murphy and Denard Span? Some are prospects. All are atop MLB depth charts (Ed note: actually Dan Murphy is the starter for the Mets, not Fernando Tatís).
The fact is that there aren't many teams that would be improved by adding a 30-year-old stone-gloved left fielder who hits about 20 homers with a .360 OBP. Sure, he's a legitimate starter, but he's in the bottom half today, and if he slips even a little offensively, he'll easily slip into the very bottom tier of the worst starting LFs in baseball.

Beyond the Boxscore a few months ago ran the numbers on left fielders' runs above replacement for last season and has Willingham down at 16th in the league at 21 runs above replacement, barely edging out up-and-comers like Chase Headley and Chris Dickerson and trailing badly guys that Boz sniffed at like Fred Lewis and David DeJesus.

I did the quick math projecting 2009 WAR for the 30 starting LFs currently listed on MLB.com's depth charts using CHONE offensive projections for offense and career UZR/150. Again Willingham is in a glut of mediocre LFs at around 2.15 wins above replacement (assuming 85% playing time). That puts him just a tiny bit ahead of gold-glove, no-bat Endy Chavez and again behind the likes of Seth Smith, Lewis, and DeJesus. Here's the full list:

Name Team Off. WAR per 162 Def. WAR per 162 Pos adj WAR
C. Jackson Ari 4.65 1.14 -0.75 4.28
M. Ramirez LAD 6.64 -1.13 -0.75 4.05
R. Braun Mil 5.56 -0.28 -0.75 3.85
A. Soriano ChC 3.87 1.18 -0.75 3.65
C. Crawford TBR 3.57 1.40 -0.75 3.58
M. Holliday Oak 4.23 0.66 -0.75 3.52
D. DeJesus KCR 2.48 2.23 -0.75 3.37
J. Damon NYY 2.84 1.72 -0.75 3.24
C. Lee Hou 4.89 -0.49 -0.75 3.11
C. Quentin CHW 4.59 -0.39 -0.75 2.94
S. Smith Col 3.87 0.00 -0.75 2.65
C. Guillen Det 3.75 0.00 -0.75 2.55
R. Ibanez Phi 4.23 -0.60 -0.75 2.44
F. Lewis SFG 2.24 1.29 -0.75 2.36
J. Bay Bos 4.23 -0.70 -0.75 2.36
J. Willingham Was 3.87 -0.59 -0.75 2.15
E. Chavez Sea 0.37 2.83 -0.75 2.09
J. Hermida Fla 3.69 -0.62 -0.75 1.97
N. Morgan Pit 0.73 1.98 -0.75 1.67
D. Murphy NYM 1.94 0.74 -0.75 1.64
J. Rivera LAA 3.27 -0.59 -0.75 1.63
C. Duncan StL 3.21 -0.68 -0.75 1.51
B. Francisco Cle 2.00 0.51 -0.75 1.50
D. Murphy Tex 2.24 0.27 -0.75 1.49
F. Pie Bal 1.34 0.91 -0.75 1.27
G. Anderson Atl 1.88 0.37 -0.75 1.27
C. Dickerson Cin 2.12 0.06 -0.75 1.22
D. Span Min 1.34 0.29 -0.75 0.74
C. Headley SDP 2.24 -1.52 -0.75 -0.03
T. Snider Tor 0.01 0.00 -0.75 -0.63

Looking at this list of teams whose current starting LF isn't already projected to be more valuable than Willingham, it's hard to find a good trading partner.
Of the 14 players projected to produce fewer wins above replacement, only Chavez, Rivera, and Garret Anderson are older. All but Juan Rivera are paid less. If you're going to take on more salary, you probably want more than just the marginal improvement that you'd get going from Chavez or Hermida to Willingham. Depending on how you calculate it, MLB teams are willing to pay between $2.5 and $4.5 million per additional win, so you're still not going to replace a near-minimum wage guy with the $2.95 million Willingham unless he's going to give you at least one additional win. Only Headley, Snider, and Span are more than one win worse than Willingham.

Florida, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Toronto, and San Diego are rebuilding teams who should be and are allowing their talented youngsters to play.
Danny Murphy's got a real shot at a breakthrough season in New York, and Ben Francisco could make a jump in Cleveland as well. If not, the Tribe has Matt LaPorta, the stud they got from Milwaukee for CC Sabathia, waiting for a mid-season call-up, and St. Louis is in a similar situation with Colby Rasmus. Willingham would make the Pirates better, but they're not usually a destination for arbitration-eligible veterans. They too have a highly-touted prospect on the way in Andrew McCutcheon, though they'll probably deal Nate McLouth to make room for him rather than moving McLouth to left.

I'm not saying Willingham will be impossible to move or has no value. I wrote this post a few weeks back speculating about good fits. And he could fit in somewhere as a DH or 1B. My point is simply that Willingham's trade value is limited. He and Olsen snagged two C-level prospects and Emilio Bonifacio for the Marlins, and I suspect we're not going to get more than half that value for him now.


ckstevenson said...

Where are the Nats LF options (or RF) on your list? It'd be nice to see where Dunn or Kearns fall in addition to Willingham

Steven said...

Dunn is a 3.13 WAR LF, based on a projected .373 wOBA and career -11.1 UZR/150.

Kearns hasn't played enough LF to project, but based on his RF defense, he's a 2.38 WAR player. That's based on a .341 projected wOBA and +9.6 career UZR/150.

John O'Connor said...

Are you sure Conor Jackson's defensive numbers are based on playing outfield as opposed to first base? I'm having a hard time getting my head around the idea he is one of the best dfielding leftfielders going.

Steven said...

John--It's not a mistake--that's his career UZR as a LF, but you're right to be skeptical. It's a small sample size issue.

Fool'sErrandBoy said...

But Josh Willingham was traded for surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer Emilio Bonifacio?

I would disagree that Howie Kendrick has virtually unlimited upside, I'd say he has just about none -- his complete lack of plate discipline and dearth of power leaves him as a player with virtually no upside. But the Angels have a mancrush on him, and he plays a premium position, so he'd have to be way worse than he is to trade for a 5th outfielder for the Nats.