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Josh Willingham's career year, interrupted

Following the best half-season of his career, Josh Willingham is officially slumping to start the second half of this season. Since the all-star break, Willingham is 9 for 50. He has five walks and 14 strikeouts, including six in his last nine plate appearances. His only three extra-base hits have been doubles, and he has not hit a home run since July 2, some 75 at-bats ago.

It says a lot about the quality of Willingham's season that, despite his funk, his on-base percentage still ranks fifth in the National League despite sitting at .390, 21 points lower than it was at the all-star break and a season low point for Willingham. Opposing pitchers still respect him enough to pitch to Adam Dunn, who has eight walks in the 16 games since the break.

His rough patch, though, continues a trend for Willingham. During every full season of his career, Willingham has skidded at some point after the all-star break:

In 2006, he went 7 for 45 in the second half of July.

In 2007, he went 6 for 40 during one July stretch.

In 2008, he went 7 for 47 to start August.

In 2009, he went on a tear in July and August but went 14 for 90 (.156) from September on. (The black-and-white numbers don't do Willingham justice in this case, as he played under trying circumstances following the death of his brother and his grandfather.)

Now, 57 plate appearances are not enough to derail any season. But, for now, the stretch has turned Willingham's season from an obvious career year to basically in line with his career averages. In his career, Willingham has hit .264 with a .362 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage with a home run every 21.3 at-bats. This season, his totals are .266/.390/.462 while hitting a homer every 22.1 at-bats.

He'll be trying to put his season back on course while the Nationals ask him to carry a larger load than ever. Willingham has never played in more than 144 games in one season; he's on pace to play 157. Willingham insisted to Manager Jim Riggleman his back, which ailed him in the past, could hold up for a whole season. It has so far; there's no indication his slump owes to anything aside from the struggles any hitter will fight through in a given season.

Willingham made a case in the first half of the season that, at 31, he had reached a new level in his career. If by the end of the season he can recapture that pace, it will come at a crucial time. Willingham is entering his final season before free agency. Mike Rizzo has said Willingham is "part of the family" and he wants him to stay in Washington for the long term. Remember, Willingham's on-base percentage remains outstanding, and not making outs is the valuable commodity in baseball.

It stands to reason Willingham's production will be closer to his first-half hot streak than his second-half slump, which should mean his numbers at the end of the year will give him the career year he was on track for. As well as Willingham performed in the first half of the season, one slump won't stop him from doing it.

By Adam Kilgore  |  August 2, 2010; 1:43 PM ET
Categories:  Josh Willingham  
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I agree with the article but asking Willingham about what he thinks is going on would add more bit to the piece. Is his back ok? Is his contract getting to him? Is he tired? Anyone who is watching right now realizes Willingham (and Rodriguez and Harris) are easy outs right now.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | August 2, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

SCNF: his back is fine, he lets his agent deal with the contract stuff, so, no, that doesn't bother him, and no, he's not tired.

No player likes talking about why he's slumping; the answers to questions like these are guaranteed to be right out the Crash Davis media relations guide, so why bother asking?

Oh, and also: he's just going up there looking for a good pitch to hit, and he's going to keep working at it.

Posted by: joebleux | August 2, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Willingham definitely looks slow at the plate as he isn't catching up with the hard stuff and is taking too many hittable pitches. Does he need a couple days off to recharge his batteries? Is his back bothering him a little? It certainly looks like teams have figured him out and it isn't like they are pitching around him. I'd give Morse some AB's in left field over the next couple of weeks and Josh some time off.

Posted by: wizfan89 | August 2, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

God Kilgore you scared me! I thought he hurt himself somehow. He will work out of his slum.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | August 2, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

God Kilgore you scared me! I thought he hurt himself somehow. He will work out of his slump.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | August 2, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

As long as this is just a slump, and not the tailspin he went into last year, then the team (& Willingham) will be fine.

Posted by: BinM | August 2, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I also had a bit of a scare upon reading the headline.

In other news, I'm catching up with posts (but not comments) after being away for several days. I did manage to check scores and trade news while away, but I'd like to offer belated thanks and well wishes to both Guze and Capps in re. their trades. (And the same to former Nat Austin Kearns, who landed with - gack...ptooie - the Spankees.) Now, how about signing the big guy? :-)

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | August 2, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Starting in left field ... Justin Maxwell ... I can just see that now ...

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Sec.204 I thought Josh was hurt by the title of the post...Please don't do that again...hahaha!

Posted by: Berndaddy | August 2, 2010 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Starting in left field ... Justin Maxwell ... I can just see that now ...

Posted by: periculum | August 2, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of which, in yesterday's game why was Bernadina moved to left field and Morse put in right? I thought you always put your better fielder and better throwing arm in right, and wouldn't that be Bernadina? Can't Morse play left field?

Posted by: poncedeleroy | August 2, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

How about giving Morse some more at-bats in left... or, putting him in right and Morgan or Bernie in left...

Not advocating taking the Hammer out of the lineup too frequently! But, as has often been said about Morgan, why not give them a day or two off to rest and collect themselves to hopefully burst out of a slump, especially when you have a hot hand to play off of your bench...

Posted by: Ghost7 | August 2, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

@ponce -- Bernadina started in center and was moved to right when Morgan came in on a double switch in the 7th. Morse, who started in right, was taken out at that point. Willingham stayed in left for the whole game. He made the second out in the 11th.

Posted by: Section222 | August 2, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

CNNSI posted this story:

Players who could still be traded before Aug. 31 waiver deadline. There were no Nats on the list. There was person on the list who would be a good fit for the nats. It looks like the Mariners could dump Chone Figgins. As a place holder until Espinosa is ready he could be a great fit. A perfect leadoff guy, and someone who could teach Morgan how to run the bases. A 1-4 of Figgins, Morgan, Zimm, and Dunn would be fun to watch.

Read more:

Posted by: hansenjo | August 2, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

It always amazes and frustrates me how baseball statistics inevitably return to the mean. A .250 lifetime hitter (and I use that to make the math easy) doesn't go 1 for 4 every game. I always joke if a .250 hitter gets 10 straight hits, he will inevitably go 0-30 to even things out. It leaves me sputtering 'how can a guy that hot, go so cold'? See Rodriguez, Pudge!

Dunn was on a pace to smash his lifetime BA numbers last year until he finished 0-23 to return to the mean. Zim was WAY over .300 at Memorial Day this year and then can't buy a hit in June until he reverts to .280. Boswell always contends that, say, a slumping Nyger Morgan will revert upwards to the mean and that seems to be the case.

It always seems there is a baseball god that sees to it that nobody plays over their head! Under either. Did Crash Davis say anything about this, I can't recall?

Posted by: Section314 | August 2, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

No. Crash may be a very wise man (according to Annie Savoy), but he proved he doesn't know about reverting to the mean in the scene near the end of the movie when he's drunk in the pool hall and rants to Nuke LaLoosh how the difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter is about one hit per week, i.e., "one extra flare a week--just one--a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail -- just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium."

Yeah, Crash, but it don't work that way. Baseball is the great leveler.

Posted by: gilbertbp | August 2, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

IMO, we've got 4 pretty god outfielders (including Morse). Each has strengths and weaknesses. Rigs should share OF PT among them the rest of the year. Josh should not be in LF every day, nor Nyjer every day in CF. No simplistic lefty-right platoon of Morse and Rog in RF. Yes, Rigs will really have to do some managing, and the players who like clearly defined roles (mainly, I expect to start every day playing the same position) won't like it. So what? For the same reasons, players didn't like playing under Stengel with the Yankees, but they won. No pennant for us, unfortunately, but if Rigs juggles the PT of these OFers to maximize their value, Nats will play closer to their potential.

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | August 2, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Hey Gang-well, the Post wouldn't let me log on to the site for a while....nice to see 1a1 and Cap up and runnin', so to speak. And hansenjo, I had some thoughts like that about Figgins, too. What's his career OBP? But this year-well, he's 32, not cheap, and his numbers are way off this need for a "new and improved" Guzzie (although I was always sorta in his corner....). Oh, and dargreg-you finish that Aaron book yet (and was that you talking on the radio post-game on Sunday?).
Finally, can any of you Gangsters come up with a good to top level middle infielder who's gonna be available in the off season? Although I wouldn't be surprised to see Kennedy start to play well now that he'll be in the lineup regularly-which is why the thought of an outfield rotation for Riggs to play with..well, after our M.I. shuffle, I'm a little leery of agreeing with that route!
Go Nats!!!

Posted by: zendo | August 2, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

@ponce -- Bernadina started in center and was moved to right when Morgan came in on a double switch in the 7th. Morse, who started in right, was taken out at that point. Willingham stayed in left for the whole game. He made the second out in the 11th.

Posted by: Section222 | August 2, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Well then maybe it was Saturday's game. I know that in one of the games, Bernadina was in left and Morse in right.

Posted by: poncedeleroy | August 2, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

They almost have no choice but to sign Dunn if they want to be competitive next season,if Rizzo could have moved AD to the Chisox for top prospects then that would have been the way to go but Ken Williams probably said thanks but no thanks after thinking it over. JWill is slumping no doubt what bothers me is the bat's not even comming off his shoulders,this is where Rick Eckstein should take charge(video,extra bp,skull sessions)and Riggs' should have sat him a couple of games. They need to sweep the DBacks but typically this is where they have wasted their chance's(O's,Tribe,Brewers)let's hope they can take advantage.

Posted by: dargregmag | August 2, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

On Figgins, he was on a rendezvous with baseball destiny until last week. Until he homered, he was on track to be the first member of the Zero Homer 120 Strikeouts Club. We already have Nyjer, who still has a shot at joining Manny Lee of the 1992 Toronto team as the 2nd member of the Zero Homer 100 Strikeouts Club. Oh and by the way, Figgie alomost came to blows recently with his manager in a dugout altercation. Are we sure we want him?

Posted by: CapPeterson1 | August 2, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Why Rizzo kept Willingham is beyond me. Guy's value has never been higher, he's always been fragile and he's only got a few years left in any event (years for which the club is not going to ink him).

Pressure is on Mike now to ink Dunn -- and his price tag went up considerably since last week. No stay at home discount is likely to be there as they made him wait this long -- why should Dunn be in any kind of hurry to take anything less than the best deal he can get from the Nats?

Posted by: dfh21 | August 2, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

If you can get someone better than Dunn for the same $60/4, then do it. But i can't think of anyone as good as Dunn who would sign for that. Can anyone else?

Posted by: EdDC | August 2, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Personally I'm confident that they'll sign Dunn. If they weren't intent on keeping him, they would have traded him. Rizzo knew before the deadline what Dunn is asking for - be it 4/60 or whatever - so no doubt having decided not to trade Dunn he is prepared to pay it if he has to. Those are the key words: If he has to. He may not have to, though. Why don't we let Rizzo and Dunn determine the price? They know what they're doing.

But if perchance they can't sign Dunn, they do not necessarily need to get another first baseman to replace him. They could have Morse play first, and go after Jayson Werth for instance. There are many ways to skin a cat.

Posted by: nunof1 | August 2, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

This is just what Rigglemanure loves. Another Mendoza liner to go along with his beloved favorites, Willie Harris, an over-the-hill Rodriguez, and Nieves. He is no manager. If Gonzales and Morse had been regulars this season, the Nats would be well over .500. Desmond has let in at least 60 runs with errors and bone-head mistakes. A real manager would know that. Riggle is an etched-in-stone .415 winning percentage loser and always will be.

Posted by: lp_lodestar | August 2, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

One thing about trading Willingham: you don't know what his value is. He's worth what 2 GMs are willing to trade for him, and we don't know what the offers were. He has, as AK notes, been "regressing to the mean" for several weeks now, a fact that any competent GM will have noticed.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | August 2, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

If Gonzales and Morse had been regulars this season, the Nats would be well over .500.

I don't think that even their mothers would think that two lifetime marginal players could put the Nats over .500.

Posted by: markfromark | August 2, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Happy to see Hammer get 2 hits tonight. Maybe better times are coming.

Posted by: bamabug | August 2, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

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