Detroit Tiger fans everywhere collectively breathed a sigh of relief with the news that Jose Valverde has pitched his last ninth inning in a Tiger uniform. Although his antics on the mound, the hat tap, the dancing, spitting and facial hair dying evoked head shakes and eye rolls from most, one fact cannot be denied, he has put up some phenomenal numbers since he has come to Detroit.
On January 19, 2010 Valverde signed a two year, $14 million contract with a third year team option for $9 million. Through the first half of the 2010 season he had an ERA of 0.94 and had a scoreless streak of 24 innings which is the longest in Tiger history.
In 2011, he picked up his 200th career save and was elected to his third all- star game. He secured the AL Central Division title with his 45th save and his 49th save came on the last regular game of the season completing his perfect year. But that’s all history and to most baseball fans, this season is all that matters.
From the very beginning, the 2012 season has been ulcer inducing. He blew a 2-0 lead on opening day against the Red Sox. He has five regular season blown saves and one post season. Pre all-star break he was sporting a 4.11 ERA, he whittled it down to 3.78 but that’s still the highest it’s been in six seasons. In the last five seasons his strikeouts have consistently dropped while giving up more hits. According to Fangraphs his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is slightly above average at 3.62. He had 35 regular season saves and one post season save, but does anyone remember that one post season save? Probably not. His playoff performance was painful to watch. His confidence, if he had any left, unraveled with the world of baseball watching. In 2.2 innings he gave up 11 hits for nine earned runs and collected one blown save. Even if he could work out his mechanics, the Detroit crowds have a tendency to be unforgiving and it is doubtful that he could ever get his head right on the mound at Comerica Park.
There are a couple of different ways that management can go to fill the closer gap. They could continue to go with their bullpen committee consisting of Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel. Coke picked up where Valverde left off in the post season and exceeded everyone’s expectations. In 10.2 innings he allowed six hits for only one earned run and struck out 13.
The biggest talk has been over Bruce Rondon, Detroit’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Earlier in his young career he has struggled with control but seems to have found the strike zone. He has collected 29 saves with Lakeland, Erie and Toledo this season. “He’s a rare talent. You would not believe the number of clubs that call me about Bruce Rondon.” General Manager Dave Dombrowski said. “ I would not discount Bruce Rondon in our competition for the closer role for next year. He is a guy that averages 100 mph and tops out at 103. We really, really seriously thought before the first of September if we should bring him up to join us for the post season.”
There is always the chance that they will go outside of their organization. Rafael Soriano opted out of his contract although it is likely that the Yankees will offer him a bigger contract to keep him.
Pittsburgh on the other hand probably won’t pay Joel Hanrahan the money he’s looking for so there is always that possibility. He’s a two time all-star, he carries a 2.72 ERA. He has picked up 36 saves this season, collecting 67 strikeouts in 59.2 innings.
Only time will tell but Jim Leyland did have this to offer, “As long as you know what you have, it’s not bad at all. But who’s to say we won’t have a closer? I think we will have a closer, I think it might be a surprise closer, but I think we might have one. And I’m not talking about Phil Coke.”