Shockingly, this will not be a Gary Coleman post (though obit fans should read this one in the Washington Post because man was Coleman’s life depressing).
Nope its about the rise and fall of another child star – Dontrelle Willis.
Earlier this week, in a move that most people saw as the return of prospect Max Scherzer to the majors, the Detroit Tigers designated the one-time dominant pitcher and effervescent personality for assignment effectively ending his time in the Motor City.
Willis burst onto the scene in 2003 – going 14-6 and combing with some Beckett guy and a big Italian with a penchant for debilitating injuries to power the upstart Florida Marlins to the Wild Card and ultimate to the World Series – though I confess I can’t recall what happened when they go there.
The next season Willis regressed in the won-loss column, and across the board really as his walks and hits were up and strikeouts went down. However in 2005, Willis was a horse – going 22-10 with an ERA on 2.63, striking out three times as many batters as he walked and for all the world looked like a guy set for superstardom.
The rest of his time in Florida was sub-par – a .500 season and a disaster season respectively – before he was traded to Detroit along with Miguel Cabrera – essentially as Cabrera’s anchor a la Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett.
In Detroit, Willis has been a Deepwater Horizon level disaster – after signing a three-year, $29 million extension with Detroit here’s what Dontrelle has thrown on the board:
22 starts and two relief appearances
93 walks/68 Ks
77 runs, all earned
For a grand total of a 2-8 record with a 6.86 ERA (66 ERA+ for those of you scoring at home).
This is all a long lead up to two basic points:
1) Willis is the reason why you can’t be too hard on so-called “failed” pitcher prospects and pitchers. The attrition rate is so high and the pitfalls so numerous that even a guy who looks like they have made it can still crash out. It helps to stockpile and when the opportunity is there, pilfer from someone else’s stockpile.
2) Should the Yankees, when Willis is finally let go by Detroit, look to bring him in?
New York has had some success (notably with Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry) of helping troubled players bounce back to a modicum of productivity, and most key, Willis – who won’t turn 29 until next January – throws left handed.
While success came early (perhaps too early) baseball is filled with guys – particular southpaws – who didn’t put it together until their late-20s/early-30s.
For example, Randy Johnson was a bucket of injuries, wildness and potential until he turned 29. Closer to Yankeedom – Allie Reynolds was a player during World War II with limited success, until after 30.
I don’t know if Willis can put it back together. I do know he was fun to watch when he was good, all arms and legs and an electric smile.
I sure hope he can – and as an added bonus – it might be fun to see him do it as a Yankee.