Show of hands: Who wants to see Ryan Perry pitch in the ninth inning of a key tie game? OK, now who wants to see David Pauley pitch in the ninth inning? Great! Now who wanted to see Daniel Schlereth pitching in the ninth inning? Wonderful.
Yet, from the rumbles from some fans since Jose Valverde coughed up the loss last night, "Anyone but Valverde" would seem to be the most popular vote. This makes no sense to me.
Yes, I know all about Valverde's stats in a save situation versus his stats in a non-save situation. I'll just crib from Matthew B. Mowery's tweet last night:
Jose Valverde in save situations: 35-35, 0.51 ERA, 0.971 WHIP; in non-save situations — 21G, 2-4, 17R, 14ER, 6.88 ERA, 1.80 WHIP
To sum, this is a pretty binary issue. Was it a save situation? No. So don't use Valverde. Case closed.
But it's not that simple. For one, almost every single pitcher in the bullpen inspired less confidence. Perry walks people consistently, gives up hits and has a horrible ERA. Since joining the Tigers, Pauley has given up base runners every game and had a disastrous appearance in Cleveland. He's also blown a save and taken a loss. All this when making just five appearances in Detroit. Daniel Schlereth bombed against the Twins -- and gave up a rather famous bomb to Jim Thome -- on Monday.
That leaves us with Phil Coke. I suspect Phil Coke would have been the preferred pitcher by many. You could make a fairly decent argument for him. Dating back four appearances, Coke has had a very good week on the mound. Of course, this is a guy who no one had confidence in two weeks ago. You could have asked Benoit to come out in the ninth, but he's a guy who has to be used wisely due to past health concerns. He also has a 4.50 ERA in non-save situations and an .849 OPS against in 11 games pitched with tie games.
Entering the game, Valverde had pitched in a tie game six times. In three of those games his team won -- two by walkoff fashion after he pitched scoreless innings. In three of those games his team lost.
Anyone but Valverde though, right? It wasn't a save situation. All it was, was a high-pressure tie game in the ninth inning of a pennant race with the 8-9-1 batters slated to come up for the Twins. That's certainly not closer territory, is it? Wait, that's exactly when I'd want my best bullpen option.
Valverde told the media, as quoted by the Dave Hogg:
"This is my spot, the ninth inning. It doesn't matter if it's tied or ready for a save."
If you're going to lose a somewhat important game, you want to lose it with your best pitchers on the mound. (I know, Jim Leyland didn't practice that in the eighth inning when Duane Below pitched instead of Joaquin Benoit, but that's an argument for a different post.) Would you really have preferred Leyland keep his best bullpen option on the bench for the entire game? As soon as the Twins and Tigers entered the ninth inning with a tie, no save situation was possible. Do you just thank Valverde for suiting up and send him to the showers at that point? What would you have said if a lesser middle reliever gave up the game-winning runs instead?
Valverde wanted to pitch. Most nights out, he finds success. I didn't even mention it was infield defense, not pitching, that did Valverde in. Offered two free outs on sacrifice bunts, Detroit did not convert either. Nor did I mention that instant replays appeared to show the first base umpire incorrectly called safe on a play at first base. Yet Valverde struck out the next two batters, including Joe Mauer, and nearly escaped until Justin Morneau drove a sinkerball back up the middle.
Leyland made no mistake in using Valverde. Execution -- notably from a left side of the infield built more for hitting than fielding and the continued inability of Tigers pitchers to play in the field -- in the ninth cost the Tigers the game.