In an article on March 20th, Lynn Henning of the Detroit News said, “I believe today that Willis will be released.” Henning’s assessment and logic couldn’t be more wrong.
The main contention Henning made was that Dontrelle couldn’t top 89 mph with his fastball in a spring training game, and that he lacks the repertoire to fool major league hitters. The problem with that? Dontrelle never relied on his speed or the filthiness of his out-pitches, but rather the deception in his delivery and arm angle. Not to mention, Dontrelle has been hitting the low 90s in other starts.
His statistics this spring have been stellar. He’s thrown 15 innings compiling 10 strikeouts, a 1.70 ERA, and maybe most importantly, a clean 1.13 WHIP. You could make the arguement that, generally, hitters are cold at the beginning of spring training, but these are still major league hitters that DTrain is not only keeping off base, but off the board. If Henning is concerned about his fastball and repertoire, explain to me his early success in getting major league hitters out.
Releasing Dontrelle and his $12 million this year is nonsensical for the Tigers, who would be resigning to the hope that someone will snatch him off the free agent market. The Tigers have already made a large investment in the southpaw, and after his spring training numbers, may as well put him at the back end of the rotation. One of the Tigers problems this year is actually a good problem to have. They have a plethora of pitching. Should Dontrelle struggle, there are a lot of options.
Another part of Henning’s argument contends that the Tigers should take Eddie Bonine north to be a long reliever. You know exactly what you are going to get in Bonine, and that’s not a good thing. He’s a guy with average stuff (that’s generous), who you can consider successful when his ERA is in the high 4s. He doesn’t even have close to the ceiling Dontrelle has on the mound. The choice Henning presents, Bonine OR Willis, isn’t the choice at all. The Tigers can take any of the four contenders for the back end of the rotation (Willis, Robertson, Bonderman, or Bonine).
Releasing Willis in a season where the Tigers are going to be looking all over the diamond for an x-factor is a huge mistake. Not only shouldn’t the Tigers release Willis, he should be their 5th starter.