Former Florida Marlins left-hander Dontrelle Willis was one of the weirdest pitchers of his time.
His funky and unorthodox windup is one of the most recognizable of any pitcher in MLB history.
Dontrelle Willis, Mechanics. pic.twitter.com/xJTLSUVu74
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 5, 2021
He also showed glimpses of being one of the game’s most dominant starters.
However, he never fully lived up to the potential that he showed early in his career.
Here is a look into Willis’s career, and where he is today.
The Best in High School and The Minors
Willis was born in California and raised by only his mother, a former elite-level softball player that played while he was growing up.
He never knew his father, who played professional baseball in the 1970s.
This baseball background served him well, helping him become one of the best youth players in the entire country.
In his senior year of high school, Willis pitched to a 0.70 ERA and struck out 111 batters in just 70 innings.
This was good enough to earn him a selection by the Chicago Cubs in the eighth round of the 2000 MLB draft.
At just 18 years old, Willis entered the minor leagues and was instantly one of the best arms.
In 2001, at the low-A level, he went 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA despite being two years younger than the average player.
That offseason, he was included in a trade package that sent him to Florida.
There, he did not slow up at all.
The next year, between single-A and high-A, Willis went 12-2 and had a minuscule 1.83 ERA.
He then started the 2003 season in double-A, where he went 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA across his first six starts.
This performance earned him a call-up to the major league club, where he was instantly welcomed into their rotation.
Willis Becomes Center of Rotation
At just 21 years old, Willis was surprisingly thrust into the middle of a Marlins rotation that was looking to contend.
While this may be daunting for most, Willis appeared unfazed.
Dontrelle Willis dominating the Mets in this one hit shutout. ⚾️🔥 pic.twitter.com/yM9lVrWfWH
— Hardball Highlights™ (@HardballVault) April 18, 2020
He made a total of 27 starts after being called up and was one of the better starting pitchers in the entire league, nevertheless his own team.
Willis went 14-6 and had a 3.30 ERA, adding 142 strikeouts to help Florida into the playoffs.
These numbers were good enough to earn him an All-Star appearance and the Rookie of the Year Award.
His season didn’t end there, though, as he looked to be a central contributor in their playoff run.
He would be largely disappointing in the first two rounds, posing a 7.94 ERA in the NLDS and 18.90 ERA in the NLCS.
Because of this, he was moved to the bullpen for the World Series against the New York Yankees.
He shined in this role, appearing in three games during the series and not giving up a run.
This helped lead the Marlins to a World Series victory, their second in team history.
The next season, Willis experienced a bit of a sophomore slump.
His record fell to 10-11, and his ERA dropped to 4.02.
While it wasn’t a terrible season, it was far from what was expected from him throughout his professional career.
Willis Nears Cy Young Award
In 2005, Willis bounced back in a major way.
After the worst season of his professional career, he led the league in wins with 22 and posted one of the best ERAs with a 2.63.
He also added a league-leading seven complete games and five shutouts, earning the second All-Star appearance of his young career.
On top of all that, Willis was one of the best hitting pitchers in the entire league.
He hit .261 with a home run and 11 RBI, adding nearly an entire point of WAR to his season total.
Though he was arguably more deserving, Willis came up just short in the NL Cy Young voting.
He lost to St. Louis’s Chris Carpenter by just eight votes, despite posting a higher WAR and a lower ERA.
In just three MLB seasons, Willis appeared to have his position among the league’s best established already.
Though his numbers took a step back to 12-12 with a 3.87 ERA in 2006, Willis couldn’t have foreseen the direction his career would then take.
He also had his best year at the plate, hitting a grand slam against the New York Mets and having a two home run game late in the season.
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) March 16, 2016
In 2007, he led MLB in earned runs and posted a 5.17 ERA, a stark step back from the rest of his career.
Health and Command Issues
Following a bad 2007, Willis was traded to the Detroit Tigers where he looked to revitalize his career.
Instead, an injury to his knee early in the season would keep him off the field.
On top of this, he struggled heavily with commanding his pitches, walking almost twice as many batters as he struck out.
Also hit .244/.287/.378 for his career with 9 homers pic.twitter.com/qAk5VqWOWf
— Astros Monke (@ZeroContextBall) November 11, 2021
This would plague him the rest of his career, as he never posted an ERA lower than 4.98.
From 2008-2011, he never appeared in more than 15 games and was nowhere near as effective as earlier in his career.
At just 29 years old, he made his final MLB appearance in the 2011 season.
He tried to make a comeback over the following years but struggles and injuries limited him again.
Finally, he officially retired in 2015 with a 72-69 career record and a 4.17 ERA.
Where Is Willis Today?
Today, Willis remains around the sport by being a contributing analyst for a few broadcasts.
You can most commonly find him with NBC Sports Bay Area where he covers the Oakland Athletics as an in-studio analyst.
— Dontrelle Willis (@DTrainMLB) February 28, 2020
He also contributes to Fox Sports, where he also serves as a studio analyst.
Willis is also very active on Twitter and appears on various podcasts, where he talks about everything going on in the baseball world.
My take: Dontrelle Willis was robbed of the 2005 NL Cy Young Award
APPARENTLY THE WINNER FEELS THE SAME WAY??? 😂@DTrainMLB tells me about his interaction with Chris Carpenter and how it felt to be in a race with him, Roy Oswalt, and Roger Clemens pic.twitter.com/196hOWfLzp
— jeremy taché (@jeremytache) December 2, 2021
While he never had the career he hoped, Willis remains a beloved figure in the baseball community today.