Jim Leyland brought Jose Valverde into the game to pitch the ninth inning last night. The Tigers were ahead 6-1 at the time. Perhaps he didn’t have time to get another pitcher warmed up — the Tigers lead 2-1 heading into the bottom of the eighth — but the ninth inning didn’t go as planned. You would think that your closer would be able to shut the door on a 5-run game, but Valverde channeled his inner Todd Jones (or was it Fernando Rodney?) and made things very very interesting.
I’m not sure if it’s a mindset issue, or if he’s trying to “pitch to contact”, but pitching poorly in non-save situations is becoming a trend for Papa Grande. At least, that’s how it seemed to me after last nights game. But I’m not usually comfortable with how things “seem”, so I investigated.
I went through the game logs of Valverde’s appearances, both this year and last year, and my feelings were confirmed. When the game is in doubt, Valverde is lights out, but he turns into a right-handed, non-Australian version of Brad Thomas when he’s just getting his work in.
First, here’s a look at what Valverde has done this season.
I’m including ninth inning appearances with the score tied in the ‘save’ category. It’s a situation in which a closer would normally enter the game.
When the game isn’t on the line, the strikeouts go down, the walks jump up, and the ERA is inflated. But this isn’t a trend that’s new to this season. Here’s what the numbers look like if we add in last year’s results.
I’m not quite sure if this trend is good or bad. I guess you’d like more consistency, but the good news is that he really has been dominant in the save situations. That’s why he gets the big bucks.
What I do know, though, is that he’s probably not the best candidate to come into the game with a four or five run lead unless he’s in need of some work, which he wasn’t in yesterday’s case (having pitched in two of the previous three games).
What was to be gained in this situation? At best he works a ho-hum inning that any major league pitcher could convert, and at worst he throws a ton of pitches, makes the game close, and perhaps blows the game. He threw 27 pitches last night, and worked a ninth inning save the day before, so it’s possible that he’ll be made unavailable for Tuesday’s game. All for what? To protect a five run lead? I don’t get it.