Dontrelle Willis Put On DL With “Anxiety Disorder”

At first blush, it seemed like just another ho-hum injury update as spring training winds down: Tigers start season with Joel Zumaya and Dontrelle Willis on disabled list. But while Zumaya’s stint is brought on by a bad shoulder, Willis is on the shelf with an “anxiety disorder.”

Dontrelle Willis
(”I’ll tell you what’s crazy–that delivery!” /fakerickreilly’d)

Willis wants fans to know that he hasn’t gone completely crazy or anything like that. We believe him, though we’re not quite sure that his quotes on MLB.COM are going to be a springboard into speaking about psychiatry after his MLB career is over:

“I’m never depressed,” Willis said. “I’ve always been a high-energy guy. This is something totally different. I’ve always been a guy that’s been upbeat, but they see something totally different. This isn’t something where I’m too amped-up and I don’t know where I’m at, running sprints up and down the parking lot. This is something where they see something in my blood they don’t like.

Yes, that “something in my blood they don’t like” line seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? After all, a diagnosis like “anxiety” seems nebulous and vague, like a catch-all for stress and nervousness.

But Willis’ diagnosis didn’t come from just sitting on a psychologist’s couch or talking about his feelings or whatever; they’ve actually got a very specific blood test for the disorder, and it sounds like that’s exactly what team doctors did with Willis. Here’s an article that goes further in depth on the main enzyme involved in the test:

Acetylcholine (ACh) is a neurotransmitter of the central nervous system. […] Over the years studies have shown that when the body feels stress (for example when a child jumps in front of your car) the level of ACh in the synapses rises. In order for the body to return to normal levels of ACh a special enzyme called Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) which breaks down the ACh, springs into action.

Normally the levels of ACh and AchE decrease after the cause of the stress disappears, but people suffering from anxiety disorders continue to maintain high levels of ACh and AChE.

Scientists have recently found a ~90% correlation between raised levels of that and two other enzymes and anxiety disorder, so this is some pretty spot-on stuff. At the very least, it sheds some light on Willis’ disastrous last few seasons; Willis went 10-15 in 2007 with an ERA over 5, then just 0-2 before hitting the shelf for the year being demoted by Detroit last season. We hope the enigmatic lefty gets better soon; for as far off-course as his career has gone, he’s still only 27.