Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Free Agent Watch: Dontrelle Willis

During last off-season, the Reds signed Dontrelle Willis to a minor league contract. When brought up to the Majors, he gave the Reds a -.1 pitching WAR, and a 2.29 PE. For comparison, Madison Bumgardner had a -1.43 PE, Chad Billingsly had a .94, and Wade Davis had a 3.31 PE. As Willis was my example in calculating Throwing Rating, his TR was 8.81. For comparison, Bumgardner had a 13.05, Billingsly with a 8.88, and Davis a 7.52. This is not horrible or anything, but it is increasingly clear that Willis has lost whatever made him so great with the Marlins those years. However, he has some value elsewhere. He actually had a .7 WAR as a hitter (giving him a .6 WAR overall). He did this in just 34 Plate Appearances, that is .02 WAR per PA. Albert Pujols has a .008 WAR per Plate Appearance this season (in 2010 he had a .011 WAR per Plate Appearance), and Josh Hamilton had a .006 WAR per Plate Appearance (in 2010 it was .013, this is only using Offensive-WAR). Willis has a career 4.3 WAR in 447 PA, giving him a .0096 WAR per plate appearance. So the real question becomes: why doesn't Willis become an outfielder? It is probably impossible using fielding statistics to see his ability to field at outfield, one would just need a sample size of him out there. However, this is something that has been done before, and it has worked. The biggest example is Rick Ankiel. Ankiel had a .007 WAR per Plate Appearance before making the switch to the outfield. In 2011 with the Nationals, he put a 2.1 WAR season together. If we use that metric, then Willis would put up a 2.88 WAR season. He is a better hitter than Ankiel was when he was a pitcher. So far, Willis is a .244/.287/.665 hitter, but one would think that these would improve as he focused on being a batter. According to Baseball Reference, his 162 game average (he has had plate appearances in 244 games) would be 316 PA. If given full time playing time, he would get at least twice as many. This would give him (using his averages) 12 HRs, 56 RBIs, 60 R, .79 PPG, and a 3.55 PAPP. Again, one would think these would improve, and if they do, he could be a very solid 4th outfielder. Of course, Willis will have to choose this route, but I think it would be the best route for him, and he could be very valuable to a team.

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