JoseValverdeWe all knew in our heart of hearts that Jose Valverde wasn’t going to snap off another year of 49-for-49 as the Tigers’ closer, but the expectation was that he would be quite good. Even folks like me, who suggested that the Tigers decline their team option on Valverde, did so not because an implosion was likely, but because the money could simply be spent somewhere else more effectively (turns out this didn’t matter as the Tigers landed Prince Fielder anyway). But this season started out as a disaster for Papa Grande and the Tigers right out of the gate.

Valverde blew two of his first six save opportunities of the season, and two games into May he carried an ERA over 6.00, a WHIP of 1.80, only one more strikeout (8) than walks allowed (7), and an OPS against over .900.

But that was really the end of his struggles. We’ve made snarky rollercoaster comments on Twitter every time he’s come out in the ninth – and he certainly has made things interesting on occasion – but he’s been very good over his last 46 outings (since May 6). Valverde has converted 24-of-26 save opportunities (92%), allowed an ERA of 3.00, a WHIP of 1.08, and allowed opposing hitters to hit for a .206/.286/.297 slash line. That’s very, very good.

For all the talk of the “disappointing offense” and the bottom of the order producing nothing, most of the difference between last year’s 95 win team and this year’s (likely) 89-91 win team could be summed up in Valverde’s save percentage. If Valverde “only” ended up converting 90% of his opportunities a year ago, the Tigers would have “only” been a 90-91 win team (for his career, he’s saved 89% of his opportunities). This year he’s converted 88% of his opportunities and the club appears to be headed for the neighborhood of 90 wins.

But the “closer was lucky last year” narrative hasn’t been spun by fans and media members this year. Instead we hear talk radio calls, Tweets, and blog posts about $200 million singles hitters, Inge-Kelly-Raburn, Rick Porcello’s inconsistency, yeah but can he play second base, Jim Leyland’s lineup lost us this game, and infield defense all season long. Of course we have also talked about “how bad” Valverde has been this year, but his numbers on the year look reasonable now, and his numbers for the last four months have been top-notch. Except he’s still blown a couple of saves like all closers do from time to time.

 

He’s not been perfect (even recently), but the “oh no, he’s going to blow it” sentiment hasn’t been true in a long time. Valverde has really stepped up his game in the last few months which is good because he’s still a critical member of this team, and they’re going to need him if they hope to put the White Sox behind them for good.

Matt  Snyder writes about Baseball, Football, and College Basketball. He can be found online as the creator and editor of Forever Faithful, the editor of The Tigers Den, a contributor to Call To The Pen, and a contributor to SideLion Report. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.