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.

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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13 years 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!

13 years ago
Reply to  Matt

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
13 years ago
Reply to  Hark

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.