The bullpen will be a major focus of the Sox brass this offseason. Outside of Papelbon and Bard there was a big lack of consistency in the pen in 2010 and a major reworking could be in store. Aside from the pen, there are some big name free agents the Sox may try to bring in. Instead of dishing out another couple million for some of the bigger name relievers (Soriano, Rauch, Fuentes etc…) there may be some cheap alternatives available at a low risk cost with some surprising upside.
As absolutely insane as it sounds, Dontrelle Willis could be one of those options.
The key here is understanding that Willis is a reliever and no longer a starter. At this point in his career he has proven ineffective in a starting capacity. However, there is a small segment of his statistics that shows he can be effective in a specific role. Specifically, against left-handed hitters.
Despite not fairing well against right-handed hitters and showing big issues with control, Willis was actually dominant against lefties this past season
86 TBF, 12.86 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 0.43 HR/9, 2.42 xFIP
Willis struck out 30 of 86 batters faced while walking only eight. As a contrast, Willis struck out only 11 of 230 right-handed hitters faced while walking 48.
The big part of Willis’ game is his mental game. When things were going good years ago in Florida, he was appearing in MLB commercials with a big smile that exemplified the joy and youth of baseball. When things changed and started to go down hill, Willis ran into some major mental issues and was even sent down to single-A while with the Tigers.
Putting Willis in a defined role which gives him only one real responsibility –getting lefties out — would limit what could go wrong. Also, if he is succeeding with a winning team in a town that would love him for helping the Sox win, that could only be good for his mental game. Of course, the downside would be what could happen if he fails, but the lack of risk in bringing him would be minimal anyway.
By no means would Dontrelle Willis be expected to come in as the main left-handed specialist. However, given that he may not even receive many minor league contract offers this offseason, what do the Sox have to lose?
If Willis can come in and strike out over 30 percent of left-handers faces, as he did in 2010, he may be a bargain bullpen arm for the team that can convince him of his new role.