July 30, 2021

Tigers Starting Rotation and the Court of Public Opinion

March 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dontrelle Willis posted a win today in the 5-1 win over the Blue Jay’s in the Grapefruit League.   In a way, this scares me slightly.  I was beating the Willis drum when he was signed back in winter of 2007 but it has been well documented since then about his anxiety issues, lack of performance, inconsistencies and general wast of money.  I will not bore you with a rehashing – check any other Detroit Tigers Blog, Team Website or baseball stat site for more info.  I quickly abandon my Willis drum when his performance went south.  I joined the “wow that was a mistake signing”  train promptly.  And over the last two seasons I have had no reason to abandon my comfy seat on that train.

However, this spring has seen a sort of revitalization of th D-Train.  He has been interesting if not entertaining to watch.  This leads me to a dilema – Will Dontrelle Willis take the #5 starter position in the Tigers Rotation?  Who else should be there if he does get it?

The first three positions in the 5 man rotation are pretty shored up – 1)Verlander (duh..) 2) Porcello and 3) Scherzer.  But from there, the waters get murky, situations aren’t so cut and dry and things get all confusing and backwards.  With Armando Galarraga’s untimely exit back down to the Toledo Mud Hens – there stands 3 contenders for the two remaining slots – Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis.  All 3 of them have their strengths and weaknesses, all 3 of them are costing the Tigers payroll an unnecessary amount of money, and all 3 of them have a pretty decent shot statistically.  Here is how the spring training stats roll out for these 3 contenders as of 3/25/10:

Jeremy Bonderman – 1-1 with a 6.92 ERA

Nate Robertson – 2-0 with a 3.68 ERA

Dontrelle Willis – 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA

I’m not one for heavy stats talk and I know that there are far more factors involved in this decision than just the ones I posted above, but they will suffice in helping me make my point a little clearer.  Bonderman has a history (a long and sordid, ugly history) of injury and extended trips to the DL.  He hasn’t pitched a solid season since 2006  The DL has a reserved seat with his name on it at the beginning of each season.  So far this season he looks good, not fabulous but good.  He finally looks healthy and the velocity is starting to rise back up to acceptable levels.  Above all, he is consistent. A worthy candidate in my opinion.  He knows it put up or shut up time and I think he is using that for fuel in his fire.

Robertson has been sub standard in his pitching for some years now.  He was the pitching staff  bulldog back in the fabulous world series season of 2006; a pleasure to watch.  But since then, he has been as exciting to watch as (sorry D.C fans) a Washington Nationals game.  At time he looked sharp and controlled, other times it looked like he was slinging wet bologna over the plate.  He was bounced from starter to bullpen and back last year and proved that the bullpen was not his forte.  So far this spring he has looked confident and positive – something we didn’t see one iota of last year.  His stats so far are good and with more innings under his belt his ERA would definitely stand the chance of coming down lower.  A worthy candidate of the last spot.

Now Dontrelle, the reason for this post.  To look at his spring training stats alone for Grapefruit league 2010 would lead one to believe that he is just lights out, strike em’ out fabulous.  You would think that all things are corrected, his anxiety issues have subsided and his past history long forgotten.  A 1.20 ERA is FABULOUS (at any time of the year with more than one game under your belt). Seeing this, I was ready to jump back on that D-Train and ride again (I know, I know, insert your fairweather fan comment here).  But after watching today’s pitching performance against the Blue Jays I think I’m going to stay on the “wow that was a mistake signing” train for a little longer.

First batter – walked… Second batter – walked… oh lord this is not good – commencing panic attack now.  This is down right scary.  Third batter – strike out.  Ok, panic attack subsided but this still set my mind in motion.  Detroit has a history of  pitchers who like to give their fans little cardiac episodes (see “Roller Coaster” Todd Jones, “Heart Attack” Fernando Rodney) and Willis is staking his claim on that list.  After 4 rocky innings – Willis managed only one earned run with 4 walks – not fabulous. 

Bonderman and Robertson have been showing signs of steady progress throughout the 2010 Grapefruit League.  At times it seems as if Willis is more lucky than good.  Personally I think he has worked hard to regain his past Marlins flash, but it is much harder to fix a mental anxiety issue than it is to heal a sore tendon, broken bone or groin pull. Bones heal muscles and tendons repair at an expected rate – mental issues have no set time table for healing. Each individual is different, there is no “predictable” outcome, inconsistent amongst every individual who is unfortunate to suffer.

Personally I’m rather upset that it came to this point, as Willis should have been let go or bought out two years ago, then we wouldn’t be in this situation at all.  If Willis continues to pitch the way he has been, I think his sporadic tendencies and wild outings would be more suitable for the bullpen where he could be pulled if things go bad in a hurry.  Starters need to have consistency.  Without consistency starting pitchers can never be expected to go deep into innings to save the bullpen staff and keep them fresh.  Dontrelle has proven that he has worked hard and he is on the right track with his anxiety recovery, but inconsistency could be the end of his career.  And for a team with hopes of a 2006 repeat, inconsistency in the starting rotation is no acceptable. I wish him the best, it’s hard to struggle at your job, no matter what job you have –  but I wish the D-Train would depart Detroit in the very near future.

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