Late in the month of January, the Brewers made a somewhat curious move by extending a minor league contract to left handed pitcher Dontrelle Willis. Willis, a two time All-Star and the Cy Young runner-up to Chris Carpenter in 2005, was attempting another comeback attempt after injuries and ineffectiveness began hampering his career all the way back to 2008, and he has failed to appear in the bigs in any season since 2011. Willis was supposed to get a look as a non-roster invitee as a possible left handed option or long reliever out of the bullpen for the Brewers in 2015, however issues related to a stiff neck has caused Willis to miss the entire spring to this point. Today, the 33 year old has reportedly expressed his desire to retire from baseball to manager Ron Roenicke.
If this is truly the end of the line for Dontrelle Willis, he will be closing the book on a career that began as an eighth round pick by the Chicago Cubs in 2000. Dontrelle was traded to the Marlins in 2002, and made his major league debut in 2003, taking the league by storm with his big personality and bigger leg kick. At age 21 in 2003, Willis posted a 14-6 record in 27 starts, with a his 3.30 ERA in 160.2 innings pitched back up by a 3.45 FIP and 142|58 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He made his first All-Star appearance that season, and took home National League Rookie of the Year honors as the Marlins captured the World Series title.
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Willis’ best season by far came in 2005, when he started 34 games for Florida, posting a 22-10 record and leading the league with 7 complete games and 5 shutouts. His 2.63 ERA ranked third that season, and his 236.1 innings pitched ranked fourth. Dontrelle’s 8.4 WAR that season tied Albert Pujols for best in the National League, and Willis finished second in Cy Young Voting.
After posting above average seasons in terms of ERA from 2003 through 2006, things began to come apart for Willis in 2007. While he managed to pitch 200 innings that year (the last time he did for his career), his H/9 rate, HR/9 rate, and BB/9 rate all increased significantly as Willis allowed 118 earned runs, the most in the league. His 5.17 ERA was more than a run higher than it had been in any season previous to 2007, and Willis found himself as part of the blockbuster that sent he and Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. Willis was promptly signed to a 3 year, $29 mil extension and was viewed as a top of the rotation starter to tandem with Justin Verlander for the foreseeable future.
Dontrelle was a major disappointment in Detroit, however, managing to pitch in only 24 games in his three seasons with the Tigers. Willis posted a 6.86 ERA in 101 innings with 68 strikeouts and 92 walks (yes, you read that right). He was traded to Arizona in June of 2010, but after posting a 6.85 ERA in 22.1 innings for the D-Backs, Dontrelle was released a month later. His final go around in the big leagues came in 2011, when he was let go from the Reds after a 1-6 record and 5.00 ERA in 13 starts.
Since 2011, Willis has attempted comebacks with the Giants, Reds, Orioles, and Angels before finding himself with the Brewers this spring. He also pitched two stints in unaffiliated ball, but injuries and inability to find the plate have continued to hamper Willis, and he has decided that the time has come to call it quits. For his 9 year major league career, the “D-Train” put together a 72-69 record in 205 games (202 starts), covering 1221.2 innings pitched. He posted a career ERA of 4.17 with 896 strikeouts and an even 500 walks, and was valued at 15.4 WAR over his career. Willis has earned a little less than $41 mil over his career according to Baseball Reference, and we at RtB wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.