Riding the D-Train Out of Motown

In a bit of dark hilarity, the Detroit Tigers’ official Twitter feed just announced that Dontrelle Willis will be designated for assignment tomorrow in order to make room for Detroit to recall Max Scherzer.

It’s an oddly forward thinking move given that Willis’ baseball card numbers aren’t horrific this season, Max Scherzer‘s are and the Tigers are in second place of the AL Central. Of course, what matters is going forward and ZiPS gives us a great comparison there. It has Willis with a 5.48 FIP for the remainder of 2010 and Scherzer at just 4.19.

Still, that would seem to be the end of Dontrelle Willis, the Detroit Tiger. Acquired from the Florida Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera mega deal, Willis was eligible for arbitration but the Tigers instead elected to ink him to a three-year, $29 million contract to cover the 2008 through 2010 seasons.

Things went belly up immediately for Willis and Detroit and never got better with multiple injuries, the pitching version of the yips and anxiety problems. Combined over the three seasons, Willis has pitched just 101 innings and been credited with 0.3 wins below replacement.

I don’t have to spell out how that is a poor return for the money. The question I am more interested in at the moment is what’s next for Willis. There’s no indication that he’s found anything that would bring back his successes with Florida, but he is still just 28 years old and his 2010 isn’t as disastrous as his 2008 and 2009 were. Assuming the Tigers do not find a trade partner within the next ten days and Willis hits the free agent market with no financial incentive, he could make a mildly intriguing pick up.

I would be surprised if he didn’t flee back to the National League. The odds that he starts putting up mid-3 FIPs again are remote, but I can envision some roughly league average performances in the NL and for the league minimum, Willis might shift from being one of the biggest sunk costs in baseball to actually a valuable investment.



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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.


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Matt
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Matt
6 years 3 months ago

All I can say is that I hope the Blue Jays go after him.

They’re in a great position to pick up a low cost high upside, if you can consider the D-Train high upside, pitcher. I would love to see Dontrelle in a Jays (or, more likely, a 51’s) uniform.

Get it done, AA!

Hark
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Hark
6 years 2 months ago

Toronto’s rotation as it stands is fantastic. All of ’em are under 30 save Tallet, and only two are posting xFIPs over 4.* Meanwhile, they have Mills, Rzepczynski and Ray stashed in Las Vegas. As much as Willis might fit the mold of the Jays rotation, I don’t see them as having need for a volatile young pitcher. They have plenty.

*Tallet and Eveland, and they just DFA’d Eveland, who had been working out of the pen since Tallet reentered the rotation.

Alan Marshall
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Alan Marshall
6 years 2 months ago

When did Eveland work out of the ‘pen? Tallet is announced as the starter Tuesday, but he has yet to be activated.

I agree with you that the Jays really have no need to go after Willis, but AA is the type that will always at least check things out and may take a flyer on him if the price is right.

Sandlapper Spike
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

If he goes back to the NL, then he can hit again, which would at least make him marginally more valuable (not if he can’t get things together, of course).

Arkeen
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Arkeen
6 years 3 months ago

He’s from the Bay Area, I could see him going to the Giants to be the 5th starter.

matt w
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matt w
6 years 3 months ago

Seems like he might be Neal Huntington’s kind of guy, and Lord knows the Pirates could use some warm bodies in the rotation.

Eric Cioe
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Eric Cioe
6 years 3 months ago

He’s walking 6 per nine. I don’t understand how anyone can be requesting their GMs to go after this wreck.

Gdiguy
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Gdiguy
6 years 3 months ago

Oliver Perez is walking 8 per nine, so he’s a 25% improvement!

TCQ
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TCQ
6 years 3 months ago

Because it’d be for the league minimum and he put up a 6 win season not so long ago (well, to be fair, it was that long ago, but he is only 28.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
6 years 3 months ago

If he can go somewhere, kinda out of the way (translated, spotlight) where he can get back into a career groove.. you know the places.. kc, pitt, the small market towns that have all but raised the white flags, places ESPN and other national outlets visit once a year.. All the while still being major league pitching and hitting. Maybe he can jus pitch for the sake of pitching, instead of trying to be something he isnt (or cant be) anymore.

OR — Maybe…. he can be the next Dave Duncan reclamation project. There is still talent, and he knows he cant/wont be asked to carry more than his load, if even that, given the twin aces of that staff. And, not like St L is currently flush with pitchers given recent injuries.

Bad Bill
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Bad Bill
6 years 2 months ago

I’d been thinking the same thing about St. Louis. Duncan seems particularly good at rehabbing veterans whose problems include a sprained brain, which definitely seems to describe Willis. I wonder, though, whether his stuff translates well into something Dunc can work with. He already induces lots of ground balls, so no improvement is likely there, and it’s not clear to me that Dunc is particularly good at fixing control problems.

The Cardinals’ need is great enough right now that their behavior will likely answer the question of whether Duncan thinks he can fix him. If he does, they’ll try to work something out. If not, then no. They’ll err on the side of not doing it, though, again because of the sprained brain, and the bad recent experience with Khalil Greene.

cpebbles
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cpebbles
6 years 2 months ago

Willis was a mechanical ticking time bomb that blew up a few years ago. Duncan might be able to add something to Willis’s knowledge of how to attack hitters, but he’s not going to do a thing to get him throwing strikes so what does it matter?

nothingxs
Guest
6 years 3 months ago

What about a future as a member of the Marlins in the bullpen as a reliever / pinch hitter? God knows the Marlins need both of these, and you’re essentially getting two players in that aspect for one contract. He can also probably remain in the game in a defensive position afterwards, too.

Maybe not common, but interesting.

libre
Member
Member
libre
6 years 3 months ago

He’s really changed his delivery from those Marlins years and the first few in Detroit. I know everybody and their mother makes a big deal out of mechanical issues when a pitcher struggles, but he really did completely change his mechanics. I remember him doing this herky-jerky dance before his delivery early in the career, with his left arm going all the way behind his body, and afterwards his arms would flail about. Now he has a simpler leg kick. His left arm still flaps about after delivery, but it’s really toned down compared to early in his career. They completely reworked him and if I were a GM, I’d be worried about Dontrelle trying to go back to his old delivery after being cut by the team that “fixed” him.

Gina
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Gina
6 years 3 months ago

I don’t think they actually changed it intentionally. From what I understand the weight he’s added since his early days in Florida make it impossible for him to repeat the old motion. He’s not flexible enough anymore.

Joseph
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Joseph
6 years 2 months ago

When he faced the Red Sox they interviewed Detroit’s pitching coach who said that Dontrelle “has really turned his life around.” Oof. I just hope the guy doesn’t sink back into depression.

Brad Johnson
Member
Member
6 years 2 months ago

The Nationals seem like an obvious match. They’re desperately scrapping the bottom of the barrel for innings right now.

JayCee
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JayCee
6 years 2 months ago

Scherzer: 14 Ks in 17 outs. Un-freaking-real!

Circlechange11
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Circlechange11
6 years 2 months ago

Ducan’s specialty is getting pitchers to pound the zone with late moving pitches, whether it’s Stewart’s forkball, Eck’s slider, Suppans 2-seamer or Pineiro’s sinker.

With Willis it would likely be a cutter that he starts down the middle and moves inro RHBs (away from the barrel), with LHB’s it would need to be the 2-seamer. But we don’t know if Willis can throw the ball where he wants at this point.

I have been curious if Duncan can turn around a lefty. The Cards already failed with Ankiel, and Willis seems to be cut from the same cloth. The major leagues is a tough place to experience real struggles for the first time. However maybe Willis can get some prescription GH, take a year off, work on hitting, hit 20 minor league homers and come back as a platoon OF. *grin*

Brian
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Brian
6 years 2 months ago

he most certainly can, hes doing wonders with Jaimie Garcia just the right left hand never seems to be available like a dtrain. Ank wasnt a failure ank lost the will to pitch. I think if d train wants to pitch and wants to re focus and listen, St. Louis would be a perfect fit.

Franco
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Franco
6 years 2 months ago

Rick Peterson used to be great at fixing guys with “broken” delivery. He did wonders for Oliver Perez when he first came to the Mets. If someone out there has a comparable pitching coach, they should give Dontrelle a go.

Circlechange11
Guest
Circlechange11
6 years 2 months ago

I think we’re forgetting that *some* of Willis’s effectiveness was due to his delivery, IMHO.

I think whoever said Willis’s body changed is on the right track.

My concern with Lincecum is that his body won’t always be as limber as it is now or an injury will make taking a stride 120% of his height will be harder to do on a regular basis.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

The difference, I think, is that Lincecum has been working on keeping his body in this particular shape for years if much of life already, whereas D-Train apparently had his body change like this on him in his 20’s. I would think Lincecum’s body “”path””, if you will, would be more similar to dancers who keep their body tone all their lives.

Also, good genes help, reportedly his father has thrown in the 80’s MPH while he was in his 50’s (Sharksrog would know the exact numbers :^).

vivaelpujols
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

I’ve heard Lincecum has the physique of a dancer ;)

Tiger fan
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Tiger fan
6 years 2 months ago

I had high hopes when Detroit acquired him. I have seen him pitch live 4 times and more on TV. I was at the ballpark when he pitched his last game on Friday. He couldn’t hit the plate at all in the first inning. He was extremely wild. In most of his outings he was extremely wild. In his first outing i saw him in 2008 he had a no hitter going through 5 but walked 8 I think. At times he’s looked good and then he completely loses all control. It’s very strange. You really can’t count on him. Even in relif appearances last year hewas wild, hitting batters. He gives you fits! I wish him well and hopes he does well elsewhere, but I kind of doubt it.

Circlechange11
Guest
Circlechange11
6 years 2 months ago

I feel the same way about Chris Duncan. Hope he does well elsewhere but I was tired of watching him struggle.

This game if full of guys that “lose it” and vanish. Very unforgiving.

My thought of Willis is that if he could have regained his form by now, he would have. Nobody chooses to perform horribly. Everybody likes the kid, but we can’t cheer him into doing well. At this point it might be too much to ask even the greatest pitching coach.

Peter Hjort
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Peter Hjort
6 years 2 months ago

I think he should try to make it as a first baseman. I think there’s more upside there than anywhere else.

Circlechange11
Guest
Circlechange11
6 years 2 months ago

1. Garcia’s never ‘lost it’ and had to ‘find it’.

2. Some guys have a mental make-up to battle back, some don’t. IMO D-Train is more of the fun loving sort. When he’s on it’s all good … When he’s not he’s a mess.

I do think there’s potential for him to put it together for a 10 game stretch and give a team a lift. Nothing like CC in Mil, but maybe better than league average with a change of leagues, like Arroyo and Volquez did in Cincy. He is tempting for StL given their current situation.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

Willis has made it known that he’s a Giants fan and that he would love to play here someday. I have to think the first thing his agent does is call the Giants.

Whether the Giants take a flier on him or not is another thing, but they don’t have a lot of depth should disaster hits the rotation (though nowadays there are vets like Pedro and Smoltz hanging around to make that not as big a problem) so I can see them signing him and playing him in AAA or AA.

Circlechange11
Guest
Circlechange11
6 years 2 months ago

I was thinking the same thing … Lince’s dad is slight and “sinewy”. He and Tim are about the same size.

His dad seems like one of those guys that can eat 2500 cals/day and not gain a pound. I used to be one of those guys . Heh Heh

gnomez
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gnomez
6 years 2 months ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if Willis simply accepted a demotion and he worked on his mechanics for a while. Detroit needs the depth, and Willis seems to like the organization.

TigerDave
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TigerDave
6 years 2 months ago

Yeah right. Walks don’t really count in the NL, and pitchers are valued form their hitting. Funny.

DbacksSkins
Guest
6 years 2 months ago

Surprise! It’s Arizona.

Cidron
Member
Cidron
6 years 2 months ago

I wonder what this says about the health of Brandon Webb? Is D-Train a replacement arm? (albiet, lower on the win potential scale)

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