Written by At Home Plate Staff (Contact & Archive) on June 06, 2009
Dontrelle Willis hasn't made many fans in Detroit. He signed a three-year, $29 million extension that looked foolish at the time, even worse considering what he's accomplished so far. Willis spent last season missing the strike zone by feet and started this season on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder.
His inability to throw strikes consistently has led Dave George of the Palm Beach Post to present a novel idea: convert Willis to an outfielder.
OK, so now it's my turn to overreact.
It's time somebody considered converting Dontrelle to an outfielder rather than a pitcher. He batted .286 with seven extra-base hits for the Marlins in 2007, and three of those hits were triples. Went 3-for-3 in a 2003 playoff game, too, and hit two home runs in a 2006 game against the Mets.
We're talking about a great athlete by any measure, and an enormously positive clubhouse influence, when he's right. Aren't those the same reasons that the St. Louis Cardinals stopped trying to help Ankiel find home plate with his pitches and put him to work instead finding a new career as an everyday player?
If the situation hasn't reached critical mass, it can't be far away. Willis has one major-league victory since joining the Tigers in 2008. Far worse, he's walked 50 batters in 49 innings for Detroit overall. That's not pitching. It's aiming.
When you look at single games or other limited sample sizes, it's not as if Willis is a horrible hitter. But when you look at what he's done throughout his career, you begin to realize that Willis isn't all that great if you want to convert him to a position player.
In 351 major league at-bats, he has hit .234/.280/.359. Those aren't bad numbers for a pitcher. In fact, they're actually pretty good. But consider those numbers for an outfielder being paid $10 (or so) million on what's supposed to be a contending ballclub. That's a little different.
To become a hitter, Willis would have to spend at least the remainder of this season and some of next season developing into a hitter. Ankiel DHed on the days he wasn't pitching when he got sent back to the minor leagues. Willis has a long way to go before becoming a serviceable hitter.
That's nothing to say of the necessary work of fielding an outfield position. You can't just throw a pitcher out there and expect him to field his position all that well.
If the Tigers implement George's plan, they'd get little return on their investment. Their only hope is for Willis to turn things around on the mound. There have been times he hasn't looked horrible, especially his debut this season against the Rangers. Let's see if the kid can regain his stuff. There's a reason the Tigers traded for him.