Monday, March 26, 2012

The Willingham Shift: Wrecking the outfield defense

Josh Willingham
has been primarily
a left fielder as a
major leaguer.
Ron Gardenhire announced Sunday that he was undoing an offseason decision and returning Josh Willingham to his accustomed left field.

I am reluctant to embrace this decision and its myriad ramifications for two reasons:

  1. Good organizations don't abandon their offseason plan in spring training without better rationale than I'm aware of so far;
  2. This pretty much ensures another season of lousy defense.

At the core of my discontent: In reviewing the disaster that was 2011, I concluded that the organization's top priority moving on had to be reversing the defensive decline.

Nothing went well in 2011, but I figured defense came first because:

  • If Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Denard Span are sound, the offensive issues largely fix themselves; if those three aren't sound, the season is doomed anyway;
  • The pitching staff is dominated by pitch-to-contact guys, and that's not turning around immediately;
  • Fix the defense and the pitching gets better.

The offseason plan, with Ben Revere and Span ticketed for left field and center field, certainly sacrificed power but figured to make up for it by cutting off opposition runs.

The new plan cuts back sharply on Revere's value. If he is in the lineup -- which seems far less likely -- it will be in the outfield spot at which he figures to be least valuable: right field, where his range is less useful and his popgun arm is a true detriment.

What I now expect to see -- and I'll post about this in more detail for Tuesday -- is a lot of Ryan Doumit in right.

An outfield of Willingham-Span-Doumit is no defensive improvement over 2011.


  1. Doumit is probably less a defensive liability in right field than he is as a catcher. But I think your basic point is correct. Defense is not a priority again.

  2. Could the rationale be a cascade effect (or dominos if you prefer)?

    Morneau can't play first and has to DH.
    Doumit's needs to be in play so he moves from DH to RF.
    Willingham also needs to play so he shifts from RF to LF.
    Revere's not an off season free agent signing so he doesn't need to play.

  3. Revere could move to center, Span could go to right, and Willingham could be in left. It is not as good as the original plan, but it could work as needed.