Nationals Baseball: Don't get comfortable Josh

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Don't get comfortable Josh

Kilgore at the Post reports that it's unlikely that Josh Willingham will get the extension he wants. This isn't much of a surprise. An extension makes Willingham less valuable in a trade and an oft-injured 32 year old (in Feb) Josh is not seen as a long term piece of the puzzle. While it may seem cold and callous, it's actually the right move by Rizzo.

The two biggest reasons Rizzo is right I just mentioned. Josh will be 32 next year. Whatever you think about a player's peak years, 32 is not one of them. At best it's in the middle of a gradual decline phase. At worst it's at the start of a steep drop off in production. Josh also seems a tad injury prone. That usually only gets worse as you age. The accumulated injuries over a lifetime of hard playing mean more things that can get tweaked, which means more ways the body will try to adjust, which means new injuries that can occur. The body takes longer to heal from these injuries.

Let's look at similar players - here are the closest players to Josh by Baseball Reference's similarity scores. If you go through player by player you'll see wildly different careers but one thing that is similar. There doesn't seem to be much of a decline phase for these players. One year they are ok, the next they are not, the year after that they are "spending more time with the family". There is a precipitous drop in games played along with production, seemingly showing an injury in their mid 30s that they just couldn't come back from. This makes sense based on what we've seen of Josh in the past two years. Niggling injuries killed his production by the end of 2009. A more major one robbed him of his power in 2010. There isn't much room for error when your batting average is sitting closer to .250 than .285 and your power isn't awesome.

I don't think last year's injury was that career killer for Josh. While it did cost him his pop, his batting average was actually quite stable from June on. He can play through this one, if it's not actively killing him (as it was post All-star break). The Nats are not fools for keeping him around, and teams aren't dumb for wanting him. But it makes no sense to offer Josh a long term deal until you see him put together a completely healthy and productive season. Until that moment, you have to expect the worst and deal with Josh in that manner contract-wise. (And that year better happen this year or next because after that he'll simply be too old to trust.)


Wally said...

I agree that he is kind of in the middle - good player, some value, but maybe enough hair that they don't get good enough prospect. Unless, they do, I keep him. Meaning that I wouldn't give him away just to get something like Guzman. I wonder if there is a deal with the Reds; he would upgrade LF for them, and they have a window to win right now. Maybe Willingham and a bullpen guy for Heisey and Alonso?

Harper said...

Nah - from what I've read the Reds are interested in a leadoff hitter and are willing to let the youngish sluggers fight it out another year. Now of course Willingham with his patience would make a crazy good leadoff hitter, but that's the type of move the Reds make in 2030, when the coach is called Sparky because sometime his robotic brain shorts out.

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