It was only four days ago that I opined that Jose Valverde was giving us some reasons to be optimistic about his rejuvenation (though we should remain skeptical). In just a matter of days — one bad inning, really — his 0.75 ERA ballooned to 3.55 while spectacularly blowing a save in Baltimore. Any and all good feelings I had about the new-old closer turned sour in a snap.
Valverde’s walk rate is low (8%) and his strikeout rate remains fine — the 22% rate is in line with what he did in 2011 — but his velocity remains down (0.6 mph lower than it was last year) and he still hasn’t found any sort of mastery of the splitter. He’s the same one-pitch, low velocity pitcher he was a year ago when he flamed out in the postseason. Relief pitchers can be effective with only one pitch, but it’s difficult to do that when the one pitch is a mostly straight fastball that sits 92-93 and is poorly located.
Anything we write — to the positive or negative — is likely to be an overreaction to a small sample size, but it was clear last night that Valverde wasn’t fooling the Orioles hitters with an of his offerings. Home run rate hasn’t been something he’s struggled with in his career — even last year he kept the ball in the yard — but I’m not confident that he can get back to that historically low rate with a slow fastball as his only offering.
It’s encouraging to see that he continues to induce popups off the bats of opposing hitters — the two outs he recorded last night were pop ups that were caught by infielders — but it’s beginning to look to me like his upside this season is a repeat of last year. Maybe not with the utter postseason failure, but it’s not going to be clear sailing in the ninth innings with him around.
His best hope at this point is to become a control artist — to be able to spot that fastball on the black — but that’s never been his game and the thought that he could suddenly do that is laughable. I’ll admit that I’m probably overreacting to Friday’s blown save, but I’m done with hoping and believing that there could be any return to dominance in his game this year.