Detroit Tigers 2nd Worst Contract – Dontrelle Willis
This one is just sad. Dontrelle Willis was a legitimate star. He burst on the scene at 21, going 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA to win Rookie of the Year and help the Marlins win the 2003 World Series. Two years later he went 22-10 for an 83-win club, posting a 2.63 ERA and 2.99 FIP to finish 2nd in the Cy Young vote. He was an above-average pitcher in 2006, but he struggled in 2007, with a 5.17 ERA over 205.1 innings. His velocity had dipped a little, but he was never a power pitcher, and his walk rate rose slightly, but it didn’t seem like a huge concern. The Tigers were happy to trade for Willis and Miguel Cabrera, and felt they were getting huge upgrades to the middle of their lineup and their starting rotation. They immediately inked Willis to a three-year, $29-million extension, and fans started making plans for another trip to the World Series. No one could have predicted what happened.
Dontrelle Willis came down with Steve Blass Disease. It started in spring training, when Willis posted an 8.64 ERA over six starts, with 15 walks in 16.2 innings. That performance was worrying, but it was easy enough to write it off as a pitcher maybe working on some things and not really in full competitive mode. But then it kept happening. Willis walked the first batter he faced that year, but he actually managed to take a no-hitter into the 6th inning, despite walking five and striking out no one. But was pulled after he walked the first two batters he faced and then gave up a double. In his next outing Willis walked the first two batters he faced, then threw a wild pitch and injured his knee. Things never got any better.
Dontrelle Willis came out of the bullpen. He accepted a rehab assignment to High-A Lakeland. He went on the injured list with an anxiety disorder on two different occasions. But nothing helped. It was painful to watch a great pitcher suddenly lose the ability to throw strikes, and one can only imagine how awful it must have felt for Willis. The Tigers finally gave up and designated him for assignment in May of 2010. His final numbers for Detroit included a 6.86 ERA, 68 strikeouts against 92 walks, and 10 wild pitches in 101 innings.