Is Josh Willingham Perfectly Suited For Target Field?

ANAHEIM, CA: Josh Willingham #16 of the Oakland Athletics dodges a close pitch in the fifth inning of the game with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Twins are reportedly going to sign Josh Willingham, perhaps for three years and $21 million. According to TwinsCentric, Willingham will be a particularly good replacement in the lineup for free-agent Michael Cuddyer, who is presumably not coming back. See, Willingham is a big-time pull hitter, while Cuddyer is not. Which is notable because ... well, here. You can read for yourself:

The Twins organization puts a great amount of pride on getting their hitters to use the entire field. Unfortunately, in Minneapolis today, that gets you diddley-squat. According to observations made by Delmon Young in October, the former Twin said the configurations and the environment made using the entire field nearly impossible ...

--snip--

Most of the home runs hit at Target Field by right-handers were pulled, a dozen were hit to left-center, five to center and just three went opposite field. This was a huge drop-off from production at the Metrodome when right-handers had 20 home runs to center and right field in 2009. If the Twins were going to get a right-hander with home run power, they would need to acquire a pull hitter to thrive at Target Field. That's where Josh Willingham comes in. In the simplest terms, Willingham is that dead-pull hitter the Twins need.

Hey, I love dead-pull hitters as much as anyone. Willingham's a dead-pull hitter, and a good one. Consistent, too. His OPS+'s the last three seasons: 127, 129, 121.

Of course, Willingham is almost 33 years old and it's quite possible that we've seen his best. I would love to have him for one season, and I would like to have him for two. Three ... well, that might be a season too far.

Or it might not be. If he's healthy and keeps pulling the ball, he could certainly be worth $21 million over three seasons. Probably will be, now that I think about it.

I don't buy the analysis above, though. There were supposedly eight home runs hit to center or right field by right-handed hitters in 2011, compared to 20 at the Metrodome in 2009.

Well, okay. But what about 2010? And is a difference of 12 home runs over the course of 81 games really huge? It's huge, percentage-wise. But otherwise it's really not. That's well within the range, I suspect, of random statistical variation.

Now, I might be more amenable to the analysis except for two more things.

One, two seasons is not enough to draw any overarching conclusions about a ballpark's impact on statistics and performance.

And two, there is no obvious reason why Target Field would be particularly tough on right-handed power hitters with a yen for the opposite field. Sure, there's no cozy baggie over there, beckoning opposite-field hitters like the Green Monster does. It's certainly easier to pull the ball for home runs than going the opposite way, just as in nearly every other ballpark that's ever been built. But the right-field fence is actually closer than the left-field fence, both down the line and in the alley.

Again, there's nothing wrong with pull hitters. Willingham's cheaper than Cuddyer, the slightly better hitter, and just a month or so older. Willingham is a good alternative to re-signing Cuddyer, particularly considering that in letting Cuddyer go, the Twins will pick up a couple of draft picks next summer.

But there's nothing particularly special about Willingham, or Target Field.

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