In December 2006, I approached Nate Robertson at a local sports store. This wasn’t an autograph signing session, he was holiday shopping.
During our brief conversation, he was completely courteous, and I was the one who terminated the conversation, wishing him a happy holiday and expressing my hopes that the Tigers would take it all in 2007. I believe if I hadn’t ended it, he would have continued to allow me to talk ad-nauseam. He could easily have brushed me aside, but he didn’t. I was impressed with him.
Simply put, Robertson is a good guy.
But in baseball, personality and performance are bipolar. If they weren’t, there would be a lot of teams with nice guys who couldn’t hit — or pitch.
So, putting personal perspectives aside, let’s look at the numbers, along with a few facts.
Relegated to the bullpen in 2008, Nate Robertson had his share of disappointments on the mound. Publicly, he was unhappy with the shift to the bullpen and has been trying to find his way back into a starters role.
This spring Robertson is 2-1. He pitched 19 innings. He gave up 18 hits, 8 earned runs, hit 2 batters and struck out 19. His spring ERA is 3.66.
Dontrelle Willis has contributed nothing to the Tigers since coming here in the deal that also brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. Problems with his command have plagued him since his arrival here.
This spring Dontrelle Willis is 2-0. He has pitched 19 innings and has an ERA of 3.26. Willis has allowed 16 hits, 7 earned runs and walked 12 batters. Five of the earned runs in his line came this afternoon against the Orioles. He didn’t figure in today’s win.
In 2008, Jeremy Bonderman had a blood clot removed. Experiencing pain in his pitching shoulder, he was placed on the disabled list after only one start in 2009.
Jeremy Bonderman has a spring record of 1-1. He has a 6.92 ERA. He pitched in 13 innings. Overall he has given up 20 hits and 10 earned runs.
Reaction to the trade has been mixed. Most are satisfied with Bonderman’s role as starter. It comes down to Willis and Robertson.
The three pitchers vied for one of two spots remaining in the rotation. Quite frankly, none of their numbers were strong enough to place one above the other.
But with time running out, the Tigers coming down to the wire needed to decide who would fill the positions.
The Tigers certainly want to get their money’s worth out of Dontrelle Willis. If his spring outings have shown anything at all, they have at least provided us with a glimpse of the pitcher they thought they were getting in 2007.
We have a lot of confidence in him (Dontrelle Willis) coming back. He’s done a lot. He’s pitched well (in spring training). I looked the other day, and he was third in all of major league baseball in ERA. He’s throwing the ball well, too. He’s worked hard. We feel comfortable he’ll do a good job for us, said Dave Dombrowski. (Detroit Free Press)
As for Jeremy Bonderman, pitching pain-free this spring was the decisive factor. The Tigers believe he can get back to his 2006 form. But he has to stay healthy.
Nate Robertson was likely headed to the bullpen — again. That would have made him an unhappy player. He has made it clear that he wants to be a starter. The Florida Marlins can give him that.
The question — is this move good for Detroit? Unfortunately, I have my doubts. As much as I want to see the former NL Rookie of the Year win 20 games in 2010, I wonder can he really come through for the Tigers?
Over the course of spring training he has been his former self, but this afternoon he showed the all too familiar side that made Detroit fans cringe.
So, I guess the even bigger question to ask is — which Dontrelle Willis will we get in the regular season? At this stage of the game, there is no answer, only speculation — and a good deal of nervousness.