Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.
Hey, I'll be the first to admit I wasn't in favor of Jose Valverde's signing in January. The Tigers concentrated on finding relief pitchers wherever they could find them. The draft, trades, international free agency, minor league free agents, you name it. They gathered and gathered and gathered. Then decided they needed another: Valverde. And besides, he danced around like a fool!
It turns out I was wrong. The Tigers watched as their bullpen went from effective to a mess by the end of the year. But they also watched as Valverde went month after month without allowing a run. It seemed like he should give one up by accident along the way, but he never did. He was as solid as could be. And his dancing? Completely endearing. He isn't showing batters up. He's just having a good time and it's amusing to watch. He's now one of my favorite Tigers.
Unfortunately along the way all the games he pitched in must have caught up to him, because he lost effectiveness in the second half and even had to be shut down for a couple of weeks in September. An unfortunate ending after such an incredible beginning.
Is he a truly elite closer? I wouldn't say so. But he pitched like one for the most of the year and at the end he was one rung down.
Valverde likes the split-finger fastball. Like, a lot. But he deploys it judiciously and effectively. According to Fangraphs, he uses it 52.5 percent of the time and its' worth 1.25 runs per 100 pitches. His other main pitch, a two-seam fastball, is slightly more effective at 1.45.
Valverde struck out nearly one-quarter of the batters he saw, but struggled with his control and walked 12.6 percent of them. To put that into perspective, think of Daniel Schlereth. Now listen to this: Valverde walked a higher percentage than him.
Some of us think that overuse by Leyland in one key game -- specifically when he threw 60 pitches on July 30 -- resulted in the real downfall of Valverde's season. Before that day, he had a 1.81 ERA. After it, 4.24. So it certainly seems like a dividing line. To be fair though, he actually began giving up runs a few days earlier. He pitched in both games of a doubleheader July 25 and allowed runs in both. That saw his ERA rise from 1.27 to 1.81 in a day.
What 2010 tells us about 2011:
Valverde's FIP in was 3.78. His FIP the previous few years was 3.50, 3.67, 3.58 and 3.39. Point is, he's consistent. His ERA has been consistently at 3.38 or lower regardless. So I don't think FIP is really a good staring point for Valverde.
As long as there is no lasting damage in his arm, I think he'll be fine again in Detroit next year. You can pen an ERA in the low 3s, a blown save or two, but otherwise a fun-to-watch year.