Waiting on Willis
Few players on the Tigers roster, or even in MLB in 2010 will receive the scrutiny that Dontrelle Willis will receive. Willis has been a disaster since putting on a Tigers uniform. He was certainly shaky in his second start, but there is no need to rush to judgment.
Two starts into the season Willis has a good start and a bad start under his belt. But he hasn’t collapsed. He hasn’t had a melt down. He hasn’t done anything appreciably different than his rotation mates at this point.
Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander both had their share of struggles their second time out this season. Willis labored through 5 innings, needing over 100 pitches to make it through and being charged with 4 runs along the way. That bested both Scherzer’s and Verlander’s outing. While there is disappointment with all 3, Wilis of course is under the microscope more than the other two given his recent history.
I don’t favor grading Willis on a curve against his past performances. But there hasn’t been anything particularly alarming at this point from Dontrelle. Maybe I’m settling. Maybe I’m judging him as a 5th starter instead of as a starter. The truth of the matter is that given his recent past and a diagnosis that doesn’t give us a lot of benchmarking data we don’t know what to expect. After two starts so far “the worst” hasn’t happened. Short of “the worst” happening two starts just isn’t enough data one way or the other.
We can look for clues though. We hear talk about the velocity and the 94mph fastball he threw today. But only half of the 40 fastballs he threw were over 90mph and only 6 were over 92. The velocity and movement separation between the fastball and change-up are pretty sparse as well. He’s only induced six swings and misses in his 2 starts. UPDATE: Checking fangraphs.com data, Willis is also among the league leaders in terms of percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone at 57.1 %.
I’m as skeptical as the next person about Willis. But he’s made two starts and hasn’t lost sight of the strike zone. He’s exceeding my expectations. The Tigers even managed to win both of his starts. He hasn’t cost the team anything yet and no red flags need to be raised.