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Nice D-Train Article from SI


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Pretty good article from Jacob Luft of SI with some interesting stats.




Next stop?

With hype gone, Willis looks to bounce back in 2005

By Jacob Luft


At 23, Dontrelle Willis begins his third season in the majors.


Inside The Numbers

Comparing Willis' first two seasons


2003 27 160.2 148 59 13 58 142 16

2004 32 197.0 210 88 20 61 139 18


Versus AB HR BB SO Avg. OBP Slg.

Righties 1157 31 94 211 .271 .328 .420

Lefties 215 2 25 70 .209 .292 .307


Is Dontrelle-mania dead? It seems like yesterday when the wide-eyed kid with the beguiling delivery sparked a moribund Marlins ballclub to a World Series run.


Willis won his nine of his first 10 decisions in 2003 and locked up the Rookie of the Year award by outdueling Randy Johnson on July 30. The Marlins began packing their home stadium for the first time in years, offering partial season-ticket plans to people who planned to show up only when Willis was scheduled to pitch. Newspapers, magazines, 24-hour sports networks -- they all wanted a piece of D-Train. "I can't lie about it," Willis said earlier this spring. "It was surreal."


Willis ended up with numbers any 10-year veteran would be proud of (14-6, 3.31 ERA), to say nothing of a 21-year-old straight out of Class AA. But the kid faded toward the end of '03 and struggled in the playoffs. The following season he couldn't recapture his magic touch, slumping to a 10-11 record and 4.02 ERA. The backlash came quickly. Critics howled. Willis is a flash in the pan! Now that hitters have figured out his delivery, he's nothing special.


There was even talk of moving him to the bullpen, where he thrived as a specialist against left-handed hitters in the '03 postseason. His career splits (see chart) are so unbalanced that it is easy to see why opposing managers try to stack their lineups with as many right-handed batters as possible.


Even though it seems he has been around longer, Willis enters his third season -- he makes his first start tonight against the Nationals -- at 23 as the fourth starter behind the cannon-armed duo of Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett and veteran lefty Al Leiter. That gives Willis at least one luxury he didn't have last spring: lower expectations. And that could be a good thing because, as Willis points out, "Nobody was talking about Johan Santana before last year, either."


There are at least a couple of other reasons why Willis may be in store for a bounce-back season, the first of which has as much to do with perception than anything tangible.


? Willis displayed outstanding control during Spring Training, walking three batters in 28 innings while striking out 25. Although spring numbers should be taken lightly, they carry more significance with Willis because, as Leiter said, "he's all shoulders and elbows. That makes it difficult for him to always have the same release point. If he's just a tick off, that's the difference between hitting the corner and the middle of the plate." Perhaps Willis' strong spring showing is a sign that he is working well with new pitching coach Mark Wiley, which could bode well for the regular season.


? D-Train's rookie season, ballyhooed though it may have been, wasn't that much different than what he gave the Marlins in '04 (see chart). The biggest difference was the dramatic increase in hits allowed, a statistic that research has shown to be largely dependent on random variance. Said Willis: "A couple of games got away from me but as far as going deep into ballgames, especially in the second half when every start was critical ... I felt good about how the season went."


? Baseball Prospectus, which uses an intricate comparison system called PECOTA, forecasts an 85.6 percent chance that Willis will either improve on his 2004 numbers or have a "breakout" season.


More important, Willis knows from experience it isn't his funky delivery or winning personality that will determine where he goes from here.


"I don't care the way you throw it," he said. "If you're making bad pitches, then the outcome is going to be in their favor more times than yours. If you're making quality pitches and you're putting together good sequences, then you have a better chance to get outs. But this is the majors. You're going to face good hitters and they're going to hit good pitches."

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