Dontrelle’s End

After two and a half years of  expectations, hope, patience, and frustration the Tigers have finally cut bait with Dontrelle Willis as he has been designated for assignment to make room for Max Scherzer. Is this decision a move towards less tolerance for failure, or just a matter of “enough is enough”?

It may seem curious to ask the question about less tolerance for failure given Dontrelle’s track record. There have been season long DL stints for knees and anxiety. There has been additional coaching and stays down at A ball to get him out of the spot light. There was the decision to bring him north this season despite the fact he hadn’t out-pitched his competitors in spring training. Through it all the Tigers stuck with him and his large contract, until last night.

Expectations

I think it’s fair to say the Tigers gave Willis every chance. While I don’t disagree with the move at all, the timing itself is a little surprising. After two seasons of implosions, Willis has an ERA, a FIP, and an xFIP that are all under 5.00. Not great or even good, but at least on the brink of serviceable. Given the contract it is disappointing to say the least, but he’s getting paid regardless.

Willis has at times looked good and at times looked out of sorts. Sometimes within the same game, sometimes even within the same inning. But the fact he looked good at times exceeded my expectations. His strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2003 and his walk rate is the best of his Tigers career (a still miserable 6 BB per 9).

So my question is, what exactly were the Tigers hoping for out of Willis this season? Dombrowski’s comments on the matter are rather gray, and I doubt we’re getting the whole story. Given his entire career arc, I think Willis is pitching as well as could have reasonably been expected.

Quicker to move

Here’s where I make a logical leap. I hope you can join me because it may be encouraging. Given the Willis DFA, the Sizemore and Scherzer demotions, and the commitment to Brennan Boesch is it out of line to think that the organization is looking to be more swift in swapping out underperformers and maximizing talent on the 25 man roster?

There are still gaping holes at catcher and Adam Everett has been awful as well. With the catcher situation there isn’t an upgrade readily available. With Everett he’s receiving less and less playing time (he and Santiago have evenly split SS duties) and my guess is the Tigers are keeping Everett around to hedge their bets in case Carlos Guillen can’t stick at second and Scott Sizemore can’t fully find his hitting stroke. Throw in Danny Worth and Everett’s leash may be shortening as well.

Margin for Error

The Tigers have made a payroll commitment to “go for it” this year and they have some terrific players to build around. But there are also enough question marks that the team has very little margin for error relative to the Minnesota Twins.

It isn’t time for rash decisions, but the team has to move swiftly if they have chances for quick upgrades. For now that means dipping into their minor league talent pool and they’ve done a nice job of extending the 25 man roster for several weeks now.

Should this post be about Maggs or Dontrelle?

Dontrelle Willis shines, Magglio Ordoñez makes history, the Tigers take their first series of the year against the Minnesota Twins. Any way you slice it this game was a heck of a lot of fun.

Willis walked the second batter he faced, and the last one. In between he was mixing pitches and speeds and mixing up the Twins to the tune of 6 strike outs and 6 innings of shut out baseball. We shouldn’t draw too many conclusions in April, but Willis has been good more than he’s been bad this season. Against the Twins he was very good, not lucky, not pitching on the edge, just plain old good.

And then you have Magglio Ordoñez making history and becoming just the 6th Venezulean to reach 2000 career hits. He joins fellow country men Luis Aparicio, Omar Vizquel, Andres Galarraga, Dave Concepcion, and Bobby Abreu.

You have the Tigers manufacturing a run in the first inning against a pitcher who has had their number. Single-steal-error-sacrifice fly and the Tigers had all the runs they’d need.

Then there is the bullpen with Joel Zumaya dominating again for 2 innings. The signature moment was a 3 pitch strikeout of Joe Mauer. And Jose Valverde picking up his seventh save.

And in the end you have a series win against a divisional foe. Good times.

Game 2010.023: Twins at Tigers

Way back in the early days of the season, the Tigers swept the Cleveland Indians. It was the last time they won a series. Granted, they did notch 2 splits on the road so it hasn’t all been bad. Today it will be Dontrelle Willis looking to edge out Carl Pavano.

Pavano had this bizarre mastery over the Tigers last year. Overall he had a 5.10 ERA last year. Against the Tigers it was 3.00 and he went 4-1 in his 6 starts. This year he’s pitching quite good against everybody though. He’s 3 for 4 in quality starts and has only walked one batter this season while fanning 17.

This isn’t an ideal match-up for the Tigers hitters, and it isn’t ideal for Willis either. Even with improved control, walks have still been an issue this year – just not a debilitating one. And the Twins are the only AL team to earn more free passes than Detroit.

Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers – April 29, 2010

A Discouraging Turn

The Tigers have taken two turns through the rotation. The first was largely encouraging. A Max Scherzer 1 run effort and reasons for hope from Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman highlighted the pass with rough but acceptable outings from Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello. This second turn though…oh man.

Using the Baseball Musings Day by Day Database it is easy to see how the starters have fared over the last 5 games and it isn’t pretty. The 12 walks issued over the 5 starts is borderline acceptable. But outside of that it is a matter of picking which number is most troublesome. Is it the 42 hits or the run-an-inning pace or the fact that strikeouts are few and far between? Or do you go with the result of all the ineffectiveness which is a bunch of short outings?

Starting Rotation via Baseball Musings

This isn’t rocket science. The starters have to pitch better. All of them. With only 4 of the hits being homers, there is some hope that the BABIP will drop. But the teams that the Tigers have faced (Indians/Royals/Mariners) are far from offensive juggernauts making this all the more concerning.

The third pass through the rotation begins today with Justin Verlander. The Tigers are the only team to not have a starter record an out after the 6th inning. That needs to change and the sooner the better.

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.

Continue reading Waiting on Willis

Robertson traded

Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis have secured the final two spots in the Tigers rotation, and Nate Robertson secured a spot with the Marlins. The Tigers today traded Robertson and $9.6 million of his $10 million contract for Marlins left handed prospect Jay Voss. For my thoughts on the trade, well, just look back a couple days.

Robertson outpitched his two competitors not only this spring, but last year as well. The stats say that Robertson should be in the rotation. It has to be a tough pill for Robertson to swallow.*

Continue reading Robertson traded

Putting eggs in the Willis basket

The battle for the back end of the Tigers starting rotation has been the story of the spring for Detroit fans. The Tigers are counting on two of the Jeremy Bonderman – Nate Robertson – Dontrelle Willis trio to bill out the last 40% of the starters innings. Bonderman has pretty much had the 4th spot assured leaving Robertson and Willis battling for the 5th spot. But with Robertson outpitching Willis by most measures, it appears that Robertson is on the block and Willis has that  last spot. A dangerous proposition to say the least.

Continue reading Putting eggs in the Willis basket

Dontrelle’s Latest Disaster

The rocky Tigers career of Dontrelle Willis has been well documented. And the story just keeps getting sadder as Willis walked 8 hitters in his rehab start for Toledo. There is this rush in sports conversation today to be the first to declare someone “done” and to call for a release. Much of it is premature and reactionary (Armando Galarraga is the true ace of the staff and Brandon Lyon should be released were popular refrains in April). But we’re on 2 years of frustration with Willis. It’s time.

The fact that the Tigers are even putting Willis on a rehab assignment is surprising. He may have another start left, or at least he was planned to before his latest outing. But to what end? Willis is in no position to join the team at this point and contribute in a very key month of the season. His activation from the DL would only serve to inhibit playoff roster flexibility.

The Tigers have been patient and Willis has done his part by the sounds of things and has been a professional through his ordeal. We don’t know what has happened behind closed doors and there is very little talk that filters through to the media. Both sides get credit for that as well. But it’s time.

There was little harm in holding on to Willis this year, they were paying him anyways and eating 2 years of salary is a harder pill to swallow. It was only a matter of holding a 40 man roster spot, and it was worth pursuing. But now the 40 man roster is full and there are a number of players who will need protecting this offseason and that spot will be better spent on a prospect.

I’d guess it doesn’t happen until the offseason, there isn’t a pressing need to rock any boats right now. But I’d be shocked if he is on the 40 man roster by the time the Winter Meetings arrive in Indianapolis. We’ll always have May 19th.

Tigers Minor League Wrap 8/18/09

Toledo 7 Columbus 6
Scott Sizemore doubled twice and homered. Dane Sardhina homered and singled. Brent Dlugach had 2 hits. Dontrelle Willis started and allowed 1 run on 1 hit and a walk with a K before leaving in the second inning with a knee injury. Brooks Brown came in and threw 4.2 innings allowing 3 runs on 6 hits, a walk, and a strike out.

Erie 6 Trenton 7 (10 innings)
Max St. Pierre doubled and homered. Danny Worth and Mike Bertram each had 2 hits. Ramon Garcia allowed 10 hits and 6 runs in 3 innings with no walks or strikeouts. Robbie Weinhardt and Brendan Wise each pitched 3 scoreless innings of relief.

Erie 1 Trenton 2
Mike Bertram had a double. Jon Kibler walked 5 and allowed 5 hits leading to 2 runs in 5.1 innings.

Clearwater 7 Lakeland 10
Devin Thomas went 2 for 3 with a homer and a walk. Christopher White homered and doubled. Mark Sorensen continues to struggle at Lakeland, this time he was tagged for 5 runs on 12 hits in 4.1 innings.

West Michigan DNP

Williamsport 0 Oneonta 2
Jamie Johnson doubled and walked. Luis Angel Sanz got the complete game shutout with 9 K’s, 3 walks, and 4 hits.

GCL Tigers 6 GCL Phillies 3
Alexander Nunez tripled and homered. Jordan Cruz had 2 hits. Rayni Guichardo allowed 3 runs on 4 hits, 2 walks, and 2 K’s in 6 innings.

Minor Links

  • Baseball America published their A ball best tools list. Casey Crosby rates as the best pitching prospect in the Midwest League by sporting the best fastball. Audy Ciriaco and Gustavo Nunez rated as the best infield arms in their respective leagues.
  • Take 75 North speculates on Daniel Fields (who threw out the first pitch Wednesday night at Comerica Park) starting assignment next year.

Tigers Minor League and Rehab Wrap 8/17/09

Columbus 4 Toledo 8
Mike Hessman 2 for 4 2B, HR. Jeff Fraizer 2 for 4, HR. Ruddy Lugo 6 IP, 3 R, 6 H, 3 BB, 3 K. Jeremy Bonderman 1 IP, 1 H, 1 K.

Erie DNP

Clearwater 5 Lakeland 1
Audy Ciriaco 2 for 4, SB. Justin Henry 2 for 4, 2 SB. Ryan Ketchner 6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 HR.

South Bend 3 West Michigan 8
Alden Carrithers 2 for 4, 3B. Ben Guez, 2 for 4, 2 2B. Avisail Garcia, 2 for 3, 2B. Adam Wilk 6.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 W, 2 K.

Oneonta DNP

GCL Tigers 2 GCL Pirates 3
Francisco Martinez 3 for 5, 2B, SB. Chao Ting Tang 2 for 5. Zach Samuels 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K.

Roster/Rehab Notes

Chris Lambert was DFA’d to make room for Jacob Turner’s contract. Lambert was at least solid for AAA despite his struggles. I’m a little surprised it wasn’t Mike Hollimon who has battled injuries and is too old to really be considered a prospect at this point.

In the same article it is noted that Dontrelle Willis was scratched from a rehab start due to a sore hip and his rehab is now on hold.

Willis will start Sunday

The Tigers have made a decision, at least for the time being, to stick with Dontrelle Willis in the starting rotation. Jeremy Bonderman will head to the bullpen…for now. Keeping Willis in the rotation is probably the right decision if Bonderman is the other option. Of course I kind of agree with Lee that perhaps that pool should include Zach Miner. That doesn’t seem like an option the team is exploring at the moment though, so what can we take from this decision?

First of all, Bonderman isn’t ready. I don’t think there is a lot of questioning of this point. I don’t see him being able to rebuild his arm strength pitching in sporadic low leverage situations in the pen. My guess is he gets optioned to Toledo (assuming he clears waivers and agrees to it) to work in the rotation and hopefully get his velocity back. He’s in the pen now because they need another arm in the pen, and likely want to bring Ryan Perry back. But Perry has to stay on optional assignment for a minimum of 10 days.

As for Willis, it appears he is pitching just well enough (not necessarily good) to hang in the rotation. This will be another test. I guess the goodish news is that we get to see Dontrelle hit for the first time.

Friday’s Bloops and Blasts

A bunch of stuff that I should highlight or comment on that I just haven’t gotten around to doing so I’ll let others do it for me:

  • Ian drops the hammer on Dontrelle after yesterday’s debacle. I give Ian credit for coming strong (damn, I sound like Jim Rome). I’ve yet to comment because while I’ve watched the replay, I still can’t even digest what happened. So take it away Ian: D-Train Disaster: Red Sox 6, Tigers 3 – Bless You Boys

    Congratulations, Dontrelle. You pitched well enough in the first four years of your career to get a $29 million contract. You benefited from a career-worst decision by a general manager and owner who felt they needed to push their team through an open championship window before it closed. You got to cash in on a 22-win season that took place four years ago. Kudos to you, sir. But this has been a massive failure. Seriously, man – you and the Tigers should be done professionally.

  • Here is a look at Edwin Jackson’s Success Through Pitchf/x. It’s one of those posts that I’ve been wanting to do. It looks like the slider has more down action this year than last. (h/t Bless You Boys)
  • The folks at It’s Just Sports just relaunched their blog, and I was honored to be part of the Better Know a Blogger feature this week.
  • The Tigers recent struggles have people wanting change. Kurt takes a rational look some of the options the Tigers may have
  • And from the Good News department, Rick Porcello was AL Rookie of the Month and Justin Verlander took him the AL Pitcher of the month honors