Today, the Phillies officially announced the signing of well-traveled and charismatic lefty, Dontrelle Willis, to a one-year, $1M deal with incentives. While Willis has seen very little success as a starting pitcher over the last few years, the Phillies were the team that did the right thing by convincing him to make the full-time move to the bullpen.
This is a tremendous low-cost move by the Phillies, who could be rewarded with a shut-down LOOGY if Willis takes to his new role. I’ve been touting this move for two years now, both times via articles on Fire Brand of the American League (links here and here). Before free agency began this offseason, I ranked Willis as my number one available left-handed reliever for The Outside Corner’s Free Agency Primer series.
“Look, he’s not a starter anymore. The sooner teams realize this the better. Despite the fact that Willis has appeared in a relief role only once in his major league career (not counting postseason play), he has posted absolutely dominant numbers against left-handed batters. In 65.2 innings in 2010, Willis posted 12.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 against lefties. He has even better against lefties this past season, posting 10.6 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9, good for a 10/1 K/BB ratio in 75.2 innings. I suggested that teams view Willis this way before last season’s free agent frenzy. I’ll do so again this offseason.”
Now, there is no guarantee that Willis will succeed, but the Phillies are taking a very low risk on a one-year deal. If Willis continues to do what he has done throughout his career, dominate left-handed batters, he’ll prove to be one of the more savvy signings of this hot stove season.