The Phillies have agreed to a one-year deal with left-handed pitcher (and childhood friend of Jimmy Rollins) Dontrelle Willis, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, who broke the news via Twitter Tuesday morning.
It’s a classic low-risk/high-reward signing that figures to cost the team very little while potentially netting them a valuable member of the pitching staff. Although there is no word on what Willis’ role with the Phillies will be, but the soon-to-be-30-year-old figures to be a source of depth for the Phillies, who now have four pitchers (Vance Worley, Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and Willis) competing for two spots in the starting rotation.
But given the team’s depth in the rotation (assuming Blanton is healthy), it would be interesting to see if the Phillies would transition Willis to the bullpen to serve as an extra left-handed specialist. Over his career, Willis has fared much better against lefties, holding them to a .562 OPS with a SO/BB rate of 3.59, compared to righties, who have an OPS against of .788, with a SO/BB rate of 1.48. While the writing is on the wall, it remains to be seen if Willis would want to work form the bullpen. But given his career trajectory and the fact that he should be happy that a team is willing to give him a roster spot, it shouldn’t be ruled out.
Since his breakout season as a 23-year-old in 2005, when he won 22 games to go along with a 2.63 ERA and a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting, Willis has had a steady decline that can be attributed to his inability to control his pitches. After a solid four-year span to start his career, where he went 58-39 with a 3.44 ERA with the Florida Marlins, Willis went 14-30 with four teams during the next five seasons, where his ERA spiked to 5.65 while he walked more than five batters per nine innings.
He went 1-6 with a 5.00 ERA over 75.2 innings last season with the Cincinnati Reds, so we can’t expect too much from him, but considering he is coming at a relatively low price tag (for baseball players, anyway), he could turn out to be a pleasant surprise for the Phillies if he is used effectively.