Monday, March 30, 2009

Ankiel biter...

By the age of 20 Rick Ankiel had logged 208 innings pitched over the course of 40 appearances (35 starts) that spanned his rookie season and a September call-up when he was 19. He did it all with a very respectable 3.46 ERA.

He was a promising young pitcher with enormous upside. He was the sort of talent that general managers expect to be anchoring a staff by the precocious age of 25.

Instead, Ankiel melted down, wilting under the pressure of being the rising star with only 11 more appearances spanning only 36 total innings during the 2001 and 2004 seasons. During that time he gave up 25 earned runs (6.25 ERA), with a whopping 66 base runners. He couldn't have found the strike zone even if he were pitching to a line-up with the likes of Shaq, Yao Ming, and Robert Parrish.

Why, you might ask, is Ankiel, who disappeared from the mound by end of the 2004 season relevant right now. It's summed up with two words - Dontrelle Willis.

Between the 2007 and 2008 seasons the then free agent pitcher was considered the big prize of the hot stove season. On forum after forum there were members of Red Sox Nation calling for Theo Epstein to run out and trade for the D-Train. Readers here may recall, I railed against this, in no small part due to the fact that Willis was looking for Ace money in an extension, and I didn't think the man could carry a staff for a season.

Now, a little more than a year removed from the trade and contract extension that now has netted Willis another $22 million over the next two seasons, the pitcher finds himself on the verge of being out of the minors - even though the Tigers are on the hook for the $22 mil.

Willis, in his time on Detroit's dime will have earned $29 million for pitching a total of 24 innings. Twenty-four innings of brutal, bullpen destroying starts during which he gave up 25 runs.

While I didn't think Willis was any better than a third starter at best, and I saw his career heading in the wrong direction, I didn't think he would go Rick Ankiel and just drive his career off the edge of a cliff a-la Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. As for the medical excuse they came up with - I might be wrong about this, but something sounds really fishy about an anxiety disorder being diagnosed by blood tests. Never heard of that before.

The only question that remains is can Willis reinvent himself like Ankiel? If he wants to continue in baseball, then he needs to.

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