The Tigers finally made the most obvious call since Hugh Hefner chose Marilyn Monroe as the first playmate in Playboy history in deciding to remove Dontrelle Willis from their starting rotation effective immediately. I love Dontrelle for his unbridled enthusiasm, his athletic game (have you seen him swing the stick?), and for the fact that he comes from my hood – the Bay Area – but enough is enough. Think of the most descriptive term you can for being awful, and that word could easily have a picture of Dontrelle Willis next to it in the dictionary (one of my favorites has always been “putrid”). Willis has not only allowed 37 hits and 28 runs in 33.2 innings leading to a 7.49 ERA, but he has walked 28 batters in that time leading to a 7.48 BB/9 mark. Moreover since joining the Tigers at the start of last season with a 3-year contract in tow for $29 million, more about that in a moment, Willis has been atrocious. Here are the numbers since the start of last season:
8.27 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 5.46 K/9, 8.58 H/9 and, hide the women and children, a 9.83 BB/9 mark.
With numbers like that, you have to seriously, and I mean SERIOUSLY, question the brain trust that is currently in place with the club in Detroit. Why in the hell would they have given him so much rope when it was clear that all he was going to do was to strangle himself with it?
Let’s go back to late December of 2007 when the Tigers decided to offer Willis a contract extension two weeks after he was obtained in a trade with the Florida Marlins that also brought Miguel Cabrera to the club (the Tigers sent Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin and four other minors leaguers to the Marlins in the deal). Here is what GM Dave Dombrowski said at the time. “We’re absolutely thrilled to accomplish this and keep him a part of our organization for a lengthy period.” Did anyone bother to ask any baseball people if this was a good idea? If they did those that offered the advice to extend Dontrelle clearly should be removed from their current post and immediately replaced by me (I love Fanball, but if you guys need someone to help clean up your organization I’m not above being a mercenary for hire). Here is what is obvious.
Willis was wonderful in 2005 going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.
However, that was the only season at the time of the contract extension that Willis had posted an ERA below 3.30 and it was the only time his WHIP was below 1.25 in his five seasons.
Second, at the time of the contract, Willis had more seasons with an ERA above 3.85 (three) than below it (two).
Third, Willis had in each of the previous four seasons (2004-07) posted a K/9 mark between 6.35 and 6.47. That is a stunning run of consistency, but at the same time that is far from a dominating number.
Fourth, after posting a 2.09 BB/9 mark in his fantastic ’05 campaign that number rose to 3.34 and 3.81 in the next two seasons.
Fifth, and the most obvious sign that trouble lay ahead, Willis was awful in 2007. Besides going 10-15, he posted a 5.17 ERA, a 1.60 WHIP and the worst K/BB mark of his career at 1.68. Throw in those wacky mechanics of his that included that huge leg kick, a funky twist of his torso, and the all arms and legs follow through, and he was hardly a pitching coach’s dream with a delivery that would obviously be difficult to repeat time after time.
Obviously no one, not even this writer, could have predicted the depths that Dontrelle would fall to, but the point is that there were warning signs all over the place that giving Willis nearly $10 million a year may not have been such a good idea. Just how bad has Willis been? His performance has been so hideous that the 7-year, $126 million deal that the Giants gave Barry Zito actually doesn’t look so bad in comparison at $18 million a year. At least Zito has stayed healthy while remaining passable for the team on the left coast, a far cry from the man who grew up across the bay from where Zito now hurls his home games.
By Ray Flowers