Dontrelle Willis received his second DFA of the season on Sunday. This time the notice came from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who admitted they were trying to “catch lightning in a bottle” with the former Detroit Tiger, but were disappointed with his ongoing control problems.
Given that Willis couldn’t stick with one of baseball’s worst pitching staffs, you have to wonder what comes next for the 28-year-old who has struggled with both on-field performance and an anxiety disorder the past few years.
Will another pro team prove so thirsty for left-handed pitching that they’ll convince themselves they’re the ones who will fix the D-Train’s funky delivery?
Will he seek answers in independent ball?
Will he move on with his life altogether and announce his retirement from the sport?
Whatever the case, it’ll be another chapter in one of the more recent and sad pitching flameout stories that probably isn’t lamented as often as it should be.
After all, it was only seven years ago that Willis burst upon the scene with 14 victories, an All-Star appearance and a NL Rookie of the Year award for the World Series-winning Florida Marlins. With an unorthodox delivery, a 10,000-watt smile and a Bay Area back story worthy of Hollywood, Willis quickly became one of the game’s most recognizable faces and the common lament here in Chicago was that the Cubs had lost the real prize in a trade that had netted them Antonio Alfonseca and Matt Clement.
Willis’ performance dipped in 2004, but he bounced back in 2005 to put together his best season, going 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA en route to another All-Star Game and a second-place finish behind Chris Carpenter in the NL Cy Young voting. The D-Train seemed like it was back on the rails to superstardom and, for such a likable guy, you felt good for him. He was fun to watch.
But his control problems started becoming more evident in 2006 after he hit a league-leading 19 batters after hitting the same total over the previous three seasons. He was traded to Detroit as part of the Miguel Cabrera trade after posting an ugly 5.17 ERA in 2007 and, from there, you know the rest of the story. He couldn’t live up to a big contract at Comerica, he went on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder and the flashes of magic from the early part of his career completely disappeared. No longer one of the future faces of baseball, Willis became just another pitcher trying to fight the mysteries of lost dominance and control.
Seeing as how his mechanics were always unusual, perhaps it’s no surprise that Willis will likely be forever known as a guy who put it together for only two brilliant seasons. Still, given the energy and joy he brought to his outings, it’s a shame it couldn’t have lasted a lot longer. His downfall over the past five seasons has been a tough one to watch and here’s wishing him the best in whatever path he takes from here.