UPDATE: The Orioles have just announced Dontrelle Willis’ retirement.
The D-Train finally accepted what we all knew to be true: his time as an effective ballplayer had passed. But it was a good run for a while. For his career, Willis finishes with a career 72-59 record and a 4.17 ERA in 1221 and two-thirds innings. His first four years in the majors, however, were pretty nice. From 2003 through 2006, Willis was 58-39 with a 3.44 ERA.
While we all thought that was just a tease of good things left to come, it turned out to be the high water mark. Which is sad given how enjoyable it was to watch Willis in his prime, but sometimes that’s how it goes.
4:20PM: Dontrelle Willis continues to toil unsuccessfully in the Orioles’ system, but that time may be ending. Roch Kubatko tweets that Willis will not make his next start and is considering retirement.
It’s been a looong time since Willis was effective. Setting aside his train wreck minor league season this year — 8.53 ERA — he posted a 5.00 ERA and 57/37 K/BB ratio in 76 innings for the Reds last season. Over the past five seasons he has a 5.65 ERA in 404 innings.
Nothing personal, but Willis is deader than vaudeville at this point, and retirement seems like a pretty decent option.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.