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What Can the Diamondbacks Expect from Dontrelle Willis? | June
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On Tuesday, the Diamondbacks acquired pitcher Dontrelle Willis from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Billy Buckner. Willis, age 28, won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2003, and finished 2nd in the Cy Young Award voting in 2005. Unfortunately, Willis has really struggled over the last four years, and has made only 24 major league appearances over the last three seasons, due to a combination of injuries, ineffectiveness, and personal issues. Let's start with a look at Willis' career stats:
Year Age Tm Lg W L IP H ER HR BB SO ERA WHIP
2003 21 FLA NL 14 6 160.2 148 59 13 58 142 3.30 1.28
2004 22 FLA NL 10 11 197.0 210 88 20 61 139 4.02 1.38
2005 23 FLA NL 22 10 236.1 213 69 11 55 170 2.63 1.13
2006 24 FLA NL 12 12 223.1 234 96 21 83 160 3.87 1.42
2007 25 FLA NL 10 15 205.1 241 118 29 87 146 5.17 1.60
2008 26 DET AL 0 2 24.0 18 25 4 35 18 9.38 2.21
2009 27 DET AL 1 4 33.2 37 28 4 28 17 7.49 1.93
2010 28 DET AL 1 2 43.1 48 24 3 29 33 4.98 1.78
Total 70 62 1123.2 1149 507 105 436 825 4.06 1.41
The biggest problem for Willis in recent years has been his control, as he walked an amazing 92 batters in his last 101 IP, while striking out 68. In 2010, he's been a little better, walking 29 in 43.1 IP, but that's still too many for long-term success. In addition, the lack of control leads to high pitch counts, as Willis has not thrown more than 6 IP in any of his eight starts this season. Scouting Report Willis has always had an unusual pitching repertoire, which matches his unusual high leg-kick delivery. He throws a straight 4-seam fastball in the low 90s, and a 2-seam fastball in the high 80s that has a little bit of sink. He also throws a change-up in the low 80s, and a slow breaking pitch that dives away from left-handed hitters. It's this breaking pitch that has made Willis so tough against left-handed batters; for his career, Willis has held lefties to a .206/.282/298 (580 OPS), while righties have hit .279/.352/.428 (779 OPS). Even in 2010, lefties have only had a .636 OPS against Willis, although right-handers have hit 200 points higher at .836. Willis has always been a ground-ball pitcher, with a career GB/FB ratio of 1.36. This year, Willis has only allowed 3 HR in 43.1 IP, and for his career, his home run rate has been quite good at 0.84 HR/9 IP. But during 2007-2009, when Willis really struggled, his home run rate was significantly higher.  Looking at some of the advanced pitching stats for Willis, his FIP in 2010 is 4.64, and his xFIP is 4.94, both very close to his actual ERA of 4.98. Opposing batters have hit .284 against Willis this year, with a batting average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .338, which are both a little higher than his career rates of .267 and .307, respectively. Conclusion After starting his career with four very good seasons, Dontrelle Willis has compiled a 5.73 ERA from 2007-2010. His ERA this year has been a mediocre 4.98, which at least is better than what Billy Buckner has been giving the Diamondbacks. Plus, Willis gives the team a left-handed starter, which the team has not had all season. To be successful, he needs to continue getting ground balls, and limit the walks to around 3BB/9 IP, instead of the 5.3 he's averaged from 2007-2010. He still is very effective against left-handed batters, so if starting doesn't work out, Willis could be useful as a left-handed relief specialist.