Someday, an up-and-coming SABR scientist should try to measure the psychic effect that losing has on ballplayers. As everyone knows from watching “The Natural,” losing is a disease — as contagious as polio, syphilis and bubonic plague. Attacking one but infecting all, though some more than others. And no other major leaguer over the past decade, among hitters, lost as frequently as Josh Willingham did.
Willingham, 35, recently announced his retirement after playing nine full seasons and parts of two more. What a relief it must have been for him to finish as a part-timer with the Kansas City Royals, who made it to the seventh game of the World Series. Only once before had Willingham played significant time for winning team (with the Florida Marlins in 2008), and never had he played in the postseason. Cross it off the list, call it a career. And it was a good one, aside from all of the losing.
Overall, his teams went 503-644 in Willingham’s appearances, producing a .439 winning percentage, the worst among anyone who recorded at least 4,000 plate appearances since he broke into the majors in 2004. It usually wasn’t Willingham’s fault that his team lost; he was the best hitter on the Marlins as a rookie, after Miguel Cabrera, and he was better than Hanley Ramirez. He was the fourth-best hitter in ’07, the third-best in ’08 — and in ’09 and ’10 after being traded to the Washington Nationals. He was the best hitter on the Oakland Athletics in 2011, and the Minnesota Twins in 2012. It’s just that Willingham’s teams lost anyway.
Read the rest of this entry »