Jose Valverde has now saved all 47 of his chances this year. Going back to last year, his save streak extends to 49. His last blown save came on September 2nd, 2010, and in that game, he pitched three frames in extra innings and still earned a victory. The last time he blew a save in a conventional save situation (defined by yours truly as when a pitcher enters at the start the ninth inning with a lead of three runs or less) was June 28th, 2009; that night, as a member of the Houston Astros, he took the mound with a 3-2 lead in the ninth and surrendered a two-run homer to Brandon Inge that eventually led to a victory for the Detroit Tigers.
Few can appreciate the value of a reliable closer like the Tigers’ fan base can. Previous to Valderde’s arrival, the Tigers had primarily used Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney in the high-stress role. When they entered a game, we could always count on things getting a bit hairy (Jones was aptly nicknamed ‘The Rollercoaster’). Though admittedly it’s not always smooth sailing with Valverde, he’s always gotten the job done.
Here are the numbers for the Tigers’ primary closer, from 2006 to 2009, in save situations, compared to Valverde’s numbers in save situations during his time in Detroit:
Jones (‘06-08) and Rodney (‘08-09): 171 G, 166.2 IP, 74 ER, 173 H, 65 BB, 110 SO, 4.00 ERA, 1.428 WHIP, 1.692 K/BB, 87.2% SvPct.
Valverde (‘10-11): 76 G, 78.1 IP, 8 ER, 37 H, 36 BB, 77 SO, 0.92 ERA, 0.932 WHIP, 2.14 K/BB, 95.9% SvPct.
Those are some impressive numbers, and all of Valverde’s are far better than those of his predecessors. This season, his numbers have been good enough to earn him a ranking of fifth on ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor, right behind C.J. Wilson and just ahead of James Shields and Mariano Rivera (who just etched his name into the record books with a historic saves-related accomplishment of his own); and that even takes into account his enormous struggles in non-save situations. Valverde has been lights-out when the game is on the line.
Though he is still 35 saves away from tying Eric Gagne’s record streak of 84 consecutive saves, with just three more in the Tigers’ final seven games, Valverde would join elite company by becoming just the tenth pitcher in major-league history to notch 50 saves in a single season. With 49 straight saves, including two last September, he holds the third-longest save streak ever, behind only Gagne and Tom Gordon, who saved 54 consecutive opportunities from ‘98-99.
He really should be getting more attention from both local and national media, but his season has been overshadowed by that of Justin Verlander. What a great problem to have.