Big D Fever

dontrelle willisTonight’s big event was the Marlins vs. Mets game. Two of my rookie fantasy pitchers, Dontrelle Willis and Aaron Heilman. Heilman, a second round minor league draft choice for me, was making his major league debut. He gave up only 1 earned run and mostly had Marlins pounding the ball into the ground, which is what I wanted to see.

But this post is really about Dontrelle Willis. If you haven’t heard of Willis yet, you must not follow sports. Willis is now 8-1 and the biggest phenom since Nomo. With a goofy, but determined grin and a funky delivery, he’s already a fan favorite in Florida and starting to catch on nationally.

After posting a 24-5 career record at A ball and AA, Willis is now 8-1 in the majors. Going back to last July, he is 20-1 as a pro. His career minor league ERA is 2.31. He’s 2.54 as a major league pitcher.

If you’re going to beat Willis, you want to do it early in the count. Opponents are hitting .429 against him on 21 first pitches. Surprisingly , 0n 0-1, they have a .750 SLG. In all other pitchers’ counts, Willis is dominating, holding batters to under .100. In all hitters’ counts, batters have at least a .300 average, including a .529 average on 2-1 with a 1.412 OPS. That’s an amazing disparity. Fortunately, Willis usually pitches ahead in the count.

Willis also seems to get strong as the game goes on. Hitters have a .280 average against the Big D in innings 1-3, and are hitting .182 in subsequent innings.

Add to all this a 55/18 K/BB ratio, and you feel compelled to believe Willis is the real deal.

Watching him — and I usually don’t like to watch my prospects on TV anymore — Willis seems fearless. No matter what the situation, he continues to attack hitters, pitching aggressively, maybe even too aggressively at times (as witnessed by his 1.400 OPS with a runner on third). By all accounts, Willis is a good kid (he’s 21) with a good head, optimistic, enthusiastic and big hearted. Those traits should help him weather the growing media attention.

One of the ironies about Willis is that in an age when more and more major league general managers are shying away from drafting high school pitchers, Willis never pitched an inning of college ball. The Cubs took him straight out of HS in 2001.

Yeah, I like Willis. I’m glad I have him on two of my three fantasy teams (most importantly, my deep keeper league), and it was a total brain cramp that caused me to not pick him up in my third league.

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