Dontrelle Willis Retires At 30: Where Did It Go Wrong?

Dontrelle Willis is retiring from baseball at the age of 30.

The Baltimore Orioles have announced that Dontrelle Willis has already or will be retiring from baseball at the age of 30.

Willis had not pitched in the majors this season and had posted a record of 0-3, 8.53 ERA this season for Norfolk, the Orioles AAA team in only 6 innings this season.

He first burst on the scene in 2003, when he won the NL Rookie of the Year Award for his 14-6 rookie season for the Miami Marlins.

Then in 2004 he posted a 10-11 record, followed by his career season of 2005 when he won a league high 22 games in his 22-10 season.

After three seasons, Willis had a 46-27 record and seemed on his way to an outstanding career.

Instead his career started a downward spiral, that would see him post a 22-27 record in the next two seasons. He would never have another winning season during his career after his 22 win season in 2005.

The December 4, 2007 trade after a 10-15 season which sent Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers for Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop, Eulugio De La Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo, looked like a great trade for the Tigers, but the failure of Willis turned it into more of a trade for Cabrera, who has performed well for the Tigers.

The trade was bad then and is still bad today for the Marlins, since none of the six players they received are still with the Marlins. Miguel Cabrera made the trade a good one, since he has hit .322 as a Detroit Tiger and hit 155 home runs, but Willis on started 22 games for the Tigers in three seasons.

Willis earned $29 million while with the Tigers, but only posted a 2-8 record and an ERA of 6.86 with Detroit. After leaving the Tigers, Willis had a 4-15 record in the majors before retiring. He never won more than two games in a season after leaving the Marlins.

Walks literally ended his career. He walked batters at rate of 3 per 9 innings in five seasons with the Marlins. That number ballooned to 8.2 walks per 9 innings in three seasons with the Tigers. That pretty well explains what went wrong with Willis. No major league pitcher can pitch with success, while walking 8.2 batters per 9 innings.

One thing Willis can say is that he was one of the best hitting major league pitchers, since not many pitchers hit safely 24 times in a season. He accomplished that feat in 2005 with the Marlins. Compare that to Bob Buhl who went 0-70 for the Milwaukee Braves in 1962 and was 4-60 in 1961 for a 4-130 streak over the two years. Anyway back to Willis….He finished his career with 9 home runs and 39 RBI, with six triples.

Willis joins a long list of players who had overwhelming promise, but couldn’t sustain the success over the long haul. He earned $40 million in his career, so he should be set financially, unless he didn’t handle his money wisely.

He is still young enough to mount a comeback, but he has shown no signs of being the same Dontrelle Willis, that won the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2003 and winning 22 games in 2005. Since then it has all been downhill. Personally, I hope he doesn’t try to make another comeback at a later time. It is not like he needs the money and he will always have the memory of the 22 wins season.

Sometimes it is better to walk away from the game, rather than taking the mound, knowing he is not the pitcher, that he was in his heyday with the Marlins.

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