Now that’s a big headline. Strangely, though, it isn’t Valverde’s personal record (yet) as he twice In what is evolving into a charmed season, Jose Valverde now has 43 saves without a single blown. Not only does he have more saves than any other Tigers reliever ever, he has converted every single opportunity. This wasn’t the prettiest save: Valverde came in two up and finished the game with one run in and the tying run on second – not the first time he has come precariously close to blowing a save this season. But it never seems to happen, and that is helping to make this season magical for Tigers fans along with improbable dominance from the unheralded like Alex Avila and improbable incompetence from our rivals.
If we take a look back at Valverde’s season that has led to this record (which seems, after all, like a record that should not belong to Todd Jones) it’s hard to describe it as anything other than odd… to see what I mean, follow me through the jump.
Closers get used mostly in save situations (whether or not that is ‘appropriate’ is a discussion for another time) but not exclusively in save situations. Sometimes they’ll get used in other situations because there hasn’t been a save situation in a while, those can be low leverage situations, but often they will be used in extremely tie game situations which aren’t likely to ever involve a potential save later. On average, save situations are fairly ‘clutch’ with an average leverage index in the neighborhood of 2. Those non-save situations, which encompass such a wide variety of game states, are less ‘clutch’ but lumped together still tend to have an average leverage index greater than average.
Saves and save percentage are the typical old-stat barometer of a closer’s contribution, but what he does in those other situations counts too. Does somebody need to remind Jose Valverde? On the whole, his season is looking pretty good: no blown saves, a 2.45 ERA and 3.18 wins added. But when you break it down into save and nonsave situations, the difference is striking:
Isn’t that ridiculous??? Despite the occasional hairy moment, like the 9th against the Twins today, Valverde has been awfully good in save situations. But… in non save situations, including some really high leverage ones, Valverde is little better than David Purcey. Compared to other elite closers, those secondary numbers in save situations are good but not exceptional. Valverde has allowed fewer hits per 9 than other top save-getters Craig Kimbrel (Braves) and John Axford (Brewers) but given up more walks and notched fewer strikeouts. Those numbers don’t include his appearance today, so some of those numbers will rise a bit – but the overall story is the same. Is this normal??? Should closers be expected to perform only in save situations? I can’t say much about closers in general, but Kimbrel and Axford both have numbers in nonsave situations that are very similar to those in save situations. Kimbrel’s ERA is 1.86 in save situations, 1.61 in nonsave situations. Axford’s ERA is 2.11 in save situations, 2.35 in nonsave situations. Hits, walks, strikeouts, all similar in both cases. Both have added WPA for their team not only in save situations, but also in nonsave situations. In nonsaves, Valverde has an enormous -1.1 WPA. Is this just small sample randomness, or is Valverde uniquely unable to rise to the nonsave occasion?