Dontrelle Willis, the newest addition to the Cincinnati Reds rotation, is a good baseball story. From 2003 to 2006, Willis owned 58 Wins, a 3.44 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 2.38 K/BB. At age twenty-four, he had a fine future ahead of him. Or so it seemed. Since 2006, Willis posted just 13 wins, a 5.81 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, and 1.11 K/BB (with a 5.6 BB/9). Willis lost his control, rotation spot, and up until this season, Major League career.
The Reds scooped him up, dropped him in Triple-A, and he excelled to the tune of a 2.63 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 3.35 K/BB. Willis was re-called by the Reds, and inserted into their rotation along side Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey. So far, Willis has posted a 3.71 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 1.50 K/BB in 3 starts. Not great, but not bad. Willis succeeding in the Majors again would make a great comeback story, but one has to wonder why it should be at the expense of Travis Wood.
Travis Wood was drafted by the Reds in the second round of the 2005 draft. In 529.3 innings between 2005 and 2009 in the minors, the left-handed pitcher owned a 3.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 2.16 K/BB. Not spectacular stats, but still very solid. In 2010, Wood enjoyed success at Triple-A, posting a 3.06 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and career-best 4.13 K/BB. It appeared as though the lefty had finally made some major strides.
The Reds gave Wood the call on July 1, 2010 against the Chicago Cubs. The twenty-three year old pitched pretty well, hurling seven innings, surrendering just two hits, two earned-runs, three walks, while striking-out four batters. Two games later, he pitched a complete game shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing one hit, zero walks, and sitting-down eight batters. Wood pitched 102.6 innings for the Reds in total in 2010, owning a respectable 3.51 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 3.31 K/BB. His 2.3 BB/9 was far superior to his 3.56 BB/9 from 2005 to 2010 in the minors. Despite being in the shadow of other Reds pitching prospects like Sam LeCure, Aroldis Chapman, and Mike Leake, Wood had finally made his mark.
The Reds handed Wood a rotation spot out of Spring Training before the 2011 season. Regression was expected, especially given his arguably unsustainable .259 BABIP in 2010, yet Wood struggled a tad more than people imagined. The twenty-four year old posted a 5.11 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 1.91 K/BB in 93.3 innings before he was demoted. A big factor in his 2011 “failure” was that his fastball was worth a measly -2.1 runs above average. In comparison, in 2010, it was worth a fantastic 17.8 runs above average–which placed him within the top twenty in the Major Leagues. With a mediocre fastball and regressed control (from 2.3 BB/9 to 3.3 BB/9), Wood didn’t stand a chance at repeating his 2010 success.
The demotion to Triple-A was needed, but his continued tenure there currently is a bit questionable. Wood has posted a 3.31 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and career-best 6.20 K/BB in 35.3 innings. His 1.3 BB/9 is not only incredible, but extremely promising for a guy who’s control was a main factor in his Major League tumble. While it’s understandable to promote a guy like Dontrelle Willis given his past success and new-found command, drowning a true prospect who is too good for his current surroundings, borders on being irresponsible.