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Willis Still A Work in Progress


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Willis still a work in progress

By Joe Capozzi

 

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

 

Friday, August 20, 2004

 

LOS ANGELES ? Don Newcombe never has met Dontrelle Willis, but the retired Dodgers pitcher has been following Willis' progress because of similarities in their careers.

 

Those similarities, for now, end after their Rookie of the Year seasons.

 

"I'm not going to buy 9-8 as having a good year," said Newcombe, referring to Willis' current record. "That's almost.500 and that's not the Dontrelle Willis that I saw last year as a rookie. Maybe he's thinking it'll just come. But 9-8 is not impressing me at all."

 

Newcombe, 78, an executive in the Dodgers' front office, followed up a 17-win rookie season with a 19-11 record and 3.70 earned run average.

 

"There was talk back then about that so-called sophomore jinx," Newcombe said. "That's why I worked harder. I didn't want it to look like the 17-8 rookie year was a fluke. You can't just hope it's going to be the same that it was in your rookie year.

 

"I think guys with talent, like a Dontrelle Willis, in their second year, they just have to put out a little extra than they did in their rookie year. They have to make sure becoming Rookie of the Year wasn't a fluke."

 

Newcombe remembers the flukes. Among them: Bob Grim, who went 20-6 for the 1954 New York Yankees before going 7-5 in 1955, and Harry Byrd, who won the 1961 Rookie of the Year award after going 15-7 for the Boston Red Sox, then went 9-15 in 1961.

 

Willis is aware of the struggles of Milwaukee center fielder Scott Podsednik (.253 through Wednesday) and Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb (4-14), two of the National League's top rookies in 2003, as well as Angel Berroa, the 2003 American League Rookie of the Year who was demoted to the minors two weeks ago.

 

"Regardless of what year you're in, it's tough to succeed at this level," Willis said. "I'm definitely rooting for them. When I see anyone struggle it reminds me of how tough this game is and it emphasizes how great (Greg) Maddux is and how great (Barry) Bonds is."

 

Newcombe was a month shy of 21 when the Brooklyn Dodgers called him up on May 17, 1949. He made the All-Star team, pitched in the World Series and won the Rookie of the Year award with a 17-8 record and 3.17 ERA. His steady 10-year career peaked in 1956 when he won the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards after going 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA.

 

Willis was 21 when the Marlins called him up May 9, 2003. He made the All-Star team, helped the Marlins win the World Series and won rookie honors after going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA.

 

Willis' second season is far from a flop. His record and 3.72 ERA would be better with more run support. The Marlins are 13-11 in his starts.

 

"That's the one big knock against me, that I'm not consistent," Willis said. "But I'm learning how to pitch especially with my back against the wall."

 

Willis' biggest adjustment has been to tone down his trademark high-knee delivery.

 

"That's a definite reason for his improved control," said manager Jack McKeon, pointing out that Willis has six walks (one intentional) in his past seven starts.

 

"He's been throwing lots of strikes and look what he's done. He doesn't try to trick anybody anymore."

 

Willis said he saw Newcombe at Dodger Stadium before Monday's game but didn't feel comfortable about approaching him.

 

Since joining the Marlins, Willis already has picked the brains of such greats as Sandy Koufax, Vida Blue and Buck O'Neal.

 

"A lot of it is all the same. They want you to work hard and give yourself the best possible chance to be successful. Everyone is real sincere.... I kind of have to figure out myself what kind of pitcher I am before making any adjustments. This year when the league made adjustments to me, then I can see what I need to work on."

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I think that making a big deal out of a mediocre 9-8 record is a mistake, especially considering the team has been so weak on offense for much of the year.

 

that said, i do think d-train is developing as a pitcher.

 

for one, i think (and please correct me if i'm wrong - i haven't gotten to watch the team much lately, just following them online) he hasn't developed the ability to change speeds effectively. i remember joe morgan talking about that during a marlins-braves ESPN telecast earlier this year, and while i'm not a big joe morgan fan ("they're good, but not they're nothing compared to the Big Red Machine!!!...") he may have a point.

 

second, he's got a tendency to really hit the skids around the 5th or 6th - he'll be shutting out a team for the first few frames, and then can't get a guy out. i don't know if it's fatigue or what, but i've seen it happen more than once.

 

that's what i've observed in a limited viewing anyhow; would be interested to hear the opinions of fans who have gotten to see him pitch more often

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I believe willis's performance of late has improved. His control is way better, he's making good decisions in tough situations, and he will be a good if not great pitcher for the rest of this season and next season. He has been much more consistent of late as well, and his last few starts have been good performances by the d-train. including the 2-0 loss to milwaukee

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Willis has an ability to pitch in the clutch. Now, I never saw Newcombe pitch - but he sounds more like a bitter old man than anything. 9-8 is not what you look at. His ERA is solid, 3.72. He has 106/41 K/BB. That is pretty good.

 

And just for comparison, Carl Pavano - an All Star AND our staff ace - has 102/41. And sure, Willis's WHIP is a little higher, 1.35 than Carl's 1.17, but he has been able to bring it down as of late.

 

I think anytime you have a 21 year old, it is impossible to expect him to be at the top of his game. He still has a lot to learn and is still physically maturing. But given the overall production, Willis is a bona fide starter and has shown an excellent ability to grow into a dominant starter one day.

 

Chill out, Newcombe...let's see YOU pitch in this Day of the Hitter. It is an entirely different game now. So stop singing your own praises...damn, I hate salty old people.

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second, he's got a tendency to really hit the skids around the 5th or 6th - he'll be shutting out a team for the first few frames, and then can't get a guy out. i don't know if it's fatigue or what, but i've seen it happen more than once.

519425[/snapback]

 

I've heard many people say that. Most of the sabermetric community regards Willis as a gimmick pitcher who will eventually be shelled the second or third times through.

This season I haven't missed many Dontrelle Willis starts, having either watched or listened to all but one or two of his starts. Willis seems to gets himself into trouble the first time around the order. Struggling with his command very early and chalking up 30 pitch innings. By the time the third inning rolls around he's at 60 pitches and well onto his way to yet another unimpresive 5 or 6 inning outing. When he does get hammered in the 5th or 6th inning it's when he's close to 100 pitches and ready to be taken out.

 

He's a special pitcher and one that's hard to control. No one knows his stretch and delivery well enough to fix his mechanics. I've read other deceiving pitchers on Willis, they've said that it was constant battle to keep themselves together. They had to check themselves on video tape over and over again, and no coach was ever able to help them much. Willis is a good kid, and if he keeps his head into the game he'll impove his game.

I still think if he brings back the changeup he had in the minors he'd be dynamite. With his delivery it would just eat up batters.

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I agree.

 

His record could easily be 12-5 with better run support.

 

The same could be said for the other starters. This team has underperformed on offense for 3 months, and all the starters have taken many losses they didn't deserve, with very few gifts in return.

519441[/snapback]

 

I agree.....same thing could be said about AJ. Except for those two bad outings he had.

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His record could easily be 12-5 with better run support.

519441[/snapback]

Sorry, you can't really expect to win 12 games when you only have 13 'quality' starts (6 IP, 3 ER) on the year.

519550[/snapback]

True, but it'd be easy to think of 3 more starts he could have won:

 

That time in NYM when Lenny got the big hit (I believe he pitched 8)

Incredible outing against Cincy

Losing 2-0 to Capuano and the Brew Crew

 

Could've easily done it.

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