Tigers’ Jose Valverde Should Have Been Closer All Along

Jose ValverdeJust before Spring Training started, I opined that reliever Jose Valverde was one of the five best free agents still available at that time. Major League general managers seemed to disagree.

Valverde went unsigned through Spring Training and into the regular season. I held my position that some contending team should grab him while it could and for a reasonable price.

Even his current team, the Detroit Tigers, did not want him back.

Now, after temporarily losing projected closer Bruce Rondon early to injury and trying the ever-hapless bullpen by committee, the Tigers are glad to have Valverde back right where he should have been all along.

Jose Valverde re-signed with the Tigers well after the season started and after manager Jim Leyland finally realized that his closer by committee would work no better than any other ever tried before. The Tigers’ relievers were only 4 for 8 in save opportunities until the Tigers re-signed Valverde for $2 million. His contract gave him a $7 million pay cut from just last year.

I could not – and still do not – understand why no one wanted Jose Valverde. Just two years ago, he was a perfect 49 for 49 in save opportunities. Last year, he blew five saves, but he still saved 35 games, good for 6th in the American League. As 2012 ended, he had 277 career saves and an 89% success rate. Many teams could have used Valverde’s services, but he went unemployed (except for the World Baseball Classic), until late April.

So far, Valverde looks more like the closer of 2011 than 2012. He is 5 for 6 in save conversions at the close of play on May 26 and has allowed only one run in 11 innings with 10 strikeouts. Five saves at the end of May does not look like much, but the Tigers have only nine total on the season. The Tigers have a run differential of +66 (259 runs scored to 193 allowed) in 48 games. Teams that lead the Majors in runs scored and have the power to blow out the opposition typically do not give their bullpens many save opportunities.

The Tigers have one of the best overall pitching staffs in the Major Leagues and the offense to give them more than enough support. Now, they again have that genuine closer who will almost guarantee a win when he enters a close game in the ninth inning with the lead. This spells bad news for the other American League Central teams and confirms my prediction of the Tigers winning their division easily.

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