Dontrelle Willis Returns To the Big Leagues

In a somewhat surprising move, the Cincinnati Reds have announced that Dontrelle Willis will be their starting pitcher for Sunday’s game against Milwaukee (as reported by Jerry Crasnick). The Reds have been dealing with pitching depth issues which have only been exacerbated by Wednesday night’s 13 inning game as well as the demotion of Edinson Volquez.

It’s only been a little more than one calendar year since we’ve seen Dontrelle Willis pitch in the Major Leagues — he pitched an inning in relief for the Diamondbacks on July 3rd, 2010 — but it feels like much longer. Willis hasn’t looked like a productive Major League pitcher since 2007, his last year with the Marlins, and even at that point we could sense the beginning of the end. After four straight seasons of 2.9 WAR or better, including a stellar 2005 season in which Willis threw 236 innings with a 2.63 ERA and a 2.99 FIP, Willis only managed a 5.17 ERA and a 5.13 FIP in 2007, and it was all downhill from there.

After his inclusion in the Miguel Cabera trade, Willis’s career collapsed. Willis has started 27 games in the major leagues since 2008 and has walked 119 batters against 82 strikeouts. That should be all one needs to know, and it should come as no surprised that his WAR over these 123.1 innings sits at -0.8. His minor league track record hasn’t offered much in the way of hope either. From 2008 to 2010, Willis has struck out 68 batters against 50 walks in 101 innings between the minor league systems of the Tigers and Giants.

Willis has at least shown a glimmer of talent in 2011, which, given his extensive history, is somewhat shockingly only his age 29 season. The lefty appears to have regained the reins a bit on his control, as Willis owns a comparatively microscopic 2.4 BB/9 in his first 75 innings as a Reds farmhand. With his control has come overall success, at least on the AAA level: his ERA of 2.63 and FIP of 3.12 are the first good signs in Willis’s recent history.

So although Willis will most certainly have to prove himself in the big leagues before anybody believes in his resurrection, there are at least signs of quality now. Perhaps just as striking as the fact that Willis has earned a trip back to the majors in 2011 is the fact that it has come with the Reds. Recall that Dave Cameron dubbed the Reds as potentially having the best rotation in the division, largely based on their depth. If anything, this move from Cincinnati proves that there is no such thing as too much pitching depth.

When Willis takes the mound on Sunday, there won’t be anybody expecting the Willis of six years ago to show up. Many won’t expect a Major League quality performance, and most will just see a punch line waiting to happen. But despite how old Willis’s career is, he’s still young, and if his minor league numbers mean anything at all, he just might have a chance at sticking around this time.

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22 Responses to “Dontrelle Willis Returns To the Big Leagues”

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  1. RMR says:

    The Reds have not been dealing with pitching depth. They have plenty of depth, perhaps as much as anybody in baseball. They have been dealing with a lack of pitching quality, requiring them to tap that depth much more than they would have liked to…

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  2. Matt K says:

    He was maddening to watch on the Tigers. The team tried all kinds of potential solutions, but he never seemed to regain “it”. Even before his Tigers debut, Dave Dombrowski seemed to think that Willis was a 5th starter… a decent enough leftthanded starter who could at least rack up the innings while performing at a league average clip. After his early success in the league, I’m still surprised that he can’t even manage THAT. He hasn’t quit yet, though, so I’ll be rooting for him.

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  3. Colin says:

    I went to one of his starts this season. They’ve totally reworked his mechanics, ditching the high leg kick that made him iconic. He was consistently low 90s with the fastball, touching 94, and throwing offspeed stuff down. They’ve almost called him up a couple of times already due to injuries, but his own injury mishaps prevented it from happening. Though I don’t think he’ll be a staff ace ever again, Willis could be a serviceable back of the rotation guy for a team that is hurting for quality innings.

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  4. Random Guy says:

    So, after being so overworked as a young pitcher, he’s finally being delivered to Dusty Baker for that special finishing touch?

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  5. Will says:

    Forgive me for not following the Reds closely enough, but what happened to Travis Wood? He is healthy right? Is Willis really a better option?

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    • ToddM says:

      As far I know, he’s fine. He’s made 3 starts in the minors since his demotion: 19 IP, 15 H, 1 HR, 3 BB, 15 K

      Looks pretty good to me… WHIP under 1, solid K rate, good control.

      I guess he just has the Reds spooked for now.

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    • ToddM says:

      Let me add — someone should take the Reds for Wood. If they don’t like him, pitching in that silly park of theirs, I’m pretty sure at least a dozen teams could use him.

      I know my Tigers could.

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  6. Chair says:

    If the Reds want Kuroda, It would just take Yonder Alonso.

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    • Kampfer says:

      kuroda is a better pitcher than he is given credit for. A lot of teams would love to have him for a Yonder Alonso

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      • Nivarsity says:

        Yeah, the Reds would do that deal in a second.

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      • Erik says:

        I don’t think thats a good trade. Kuroda’s old and, while a pretty decent pitcher, possibly more of the same for Cincinnati. Besides, he’s way out of the price range of the Reds money wise, and I would imagine the Dodgers would be looking to trade him for financial relief.

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  7. jirish says:

    Well, I’m rooting for Dontrelle Willis to have at least modest success. I have a soft spot for pitchers that keep plugging away through injuries and failure. It’s got to be one of the physically and mentally toughest things to do. You cannot hide your failures when everyone is focusing their attention on you while you are on the mound.

    It’s actually quite an accomplishment for him to even get back on a major league mound. I really do wish him well.

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  8. lex logan says:

    6 innings, 2 runs, 4 hits, 4 walks, 4 K’s — a decent line. We’ll see how he holds up the rest of the season.

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  9. You have to figure he was a little nervous, and that could be the reason for the walks. His walk rate was pretty good in the minors this year, so it looks like he got that back. I do worry about the lack of deception in his delivery though, but being lefthanded he might be able to be a servicable starter. I don’t think he’ll ever be like he was when he had that funky delivery though. But the biggest factor for him is up in his head. Maybe that was the reason for his lack of control the past few years. Time will tell.

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  10. Tim says:

    I just looked at his numbers, and I see that Dontrelle hasn’t been really that good in his career, but in his career year of 2005, it seems as though it was because it was the implementation of his cutter and his low walk rate which could possibly be attributed to his cutter. But for some reason, he stopped using it, and went downhill again starting late 2006 and 2007.

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  11. Maddie says:

    Not many authors could make this material intriguing, but you handled this. My spouse and i loved studying your ideas and ideas. I agree with high of what you have written below.

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