The D-Train Is Done

The Orioles have confirmed that Dontrelle Willis is retiring at age 30.  It’s a shame.

Willis is from Alameda, California, not far from where I live in Berkeley.  He took the National League by storm as a young pitcher and ended up being another cautionary tale of making a pitcher younger than age 25 throw too many innings, following in the footsteps of Larry Dierker and Dwight “Doc” Gooden, and many others.

The thing I always loved about Dontrelle was his enthusiasm when he was young and good.  He was one of the best hitting pitchers of the last ten years — a little over a month ago, I rated him the second best hitting pitcher in MLB, behind only Micah Owings, based on reasonably objective criteria — and he clearly loved to play the game when the talent was bursting out of his uniform.

It doesn’t sound like Dontrelle had much of that old enthusiasm left.  After a mediocre performance as the Reds’ second-half fifth starter in 2011 (Dontrelle went 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA in 13 starts), he signed with the Phillies last December for around a $1 million, according to and wikipedia.

However, the Phillies released him in the middle of Spring Training (mid-March), which makes me think that Dontrelle had signed to a minor league contract or that Dontrelle had problems with the Phillies’ idea to re-invent him as a relief pitcher.  Dontrelle latched on with the Orioles, but after three April relief appearances Dontrelle asked for his release. The O’s wouldn’t give it too him, instead putting him on the reserve list.

Part of the dispute was apparently over whether or not Dontrelle was willing to be a relief pitcher, the Orioles, like the Phillies, thinking that’s where his future lay.  Dontrelle threatened to file a grievance through the players’ union, and he and the O’s ended up working out a deal where he would get another chance to start.  He made exactly one start for AAA Norfolk on June 28, gave four runs, all earned, in 2.2 innings, and has now apparently decided to retire.

There has been a lot of speculation about why Dontrelle flamed out, including being treated for an anxiety disorder in early 2009, but I’ll always believe that most of it was the fact that Dontrelle threw so many innings between age 21 and 24 (853.2, including his minor league innings).  I suspect that the anxiety disorder was in some part due to Dontrelle’s loss of confidence after his arm had given out.

One thing is for certain: Dontrelle’s command, at least based on his walk totals, deteriorated steadily after the 2005 season, until it reached the point where he wasn’t a major league pitcher any more.

Dontrelle was good just long enough to cash in with a three-year $29 million contract the Tigers gave him before the 2008 season.   Let’s hope he has some of that money left to take care of his young family now that his baseball career is apparently over.

If Dontrelle still has a love for the game, he could always go to the Independent-A Atlantic League for $3,000 to $5,000 a month and try to re-invent himself as position player.  His career major league .244 batting average and .665 OPS suggests there is an outside chance he could do it.  At this moment, though, that doesn’t seem very likely.

Dontrelle, I will miss you, and I hope your life beyond professional baseball is a good one.

Explore posts in the same categories: Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Florida Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies

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