In 2011 Tigers closer Jose Valverde had a perfect season converting on 49 saves in 49 opportunities with a 2.24 ERA, including a perfect 4 for 4 in the postseason. On the surface, his season was a model of consistency, a veritable lock down closer. When the ninth inning came along, it was assumed that is was ” game over”and that is exactly what happened on 49 occasions. It wasn’t always pretty, as he left many of us biting our nails hoping that somehow he gets out of yet another jam. He got the job done and for his efforts he earned a trip to his second straight All-Star game. Valverde ranks sixth All-Time in Detroit Tigers history with 75 saves, 10 saves behind Aurelio Lopez for 5th best. Todd Jones is the current franchise record holder with 235 career Tiger saves.
Having the perfect 2011 season, it was a no-brainier for management to exercise Valverde’s $9 million option for 2012. That being said, the question arises, what can we expect going forward? One has to assume that when you’re perfect for an entire season and postseason, duplicating that would be near impossible. The motivation should be there ten-fold for Valverde to have another great season however. At the forefront is the chase for a World Series title, and also, the 33-year old is pitching for a new contract, and is likely going to be looking to cash in at least one more time before his career winds down.
Looking deeper into the stats we can get a good snapshot of what to expect, there is a theme happening here. He battled through control issues (4.23 BB/9 and 11.3 BB%) as well as a declining strikeout rate (8.59 K/9 and 22.9% K rate), his worst since 2006. So even though he is getting the job done, BB/K numbers are in decline. Heading into the 2012 season, one could surmise, based on past trends of aging veterans, his numbers could continue a decline. So that leads to the question, will Jose Valverde survive beyond 2012 in the Motor City? Or will they go in a different direction? Keep in mind the Tigers traded away the player they dubbed as the ” future closer” in Ryan Perry, as he never seemed to put things together in Detroit.
Looking ahead at the 2013 closers that would be available; Joakim Soria, Brandon League, Fransisco Rodriguez are three of the more marquee players that will be looking for homes, possibly with other clubs. Maybe the Tigers would have interest in getting a little younger in the ninth inning? Also, the option that someone within the organization taking over the closer role is there. Based on what we’ve seen last year from Valverde, and what we have in our system, there is no reason to believe a free agent, or an in-house candidate, would be better for Detroit than what they currently have with Jose Valverde.
Detroit will most likely be a contending team this season, and if Valverde can hold his own again, he may get consideration for another couple years with the Tigers. After all, the Tigers should be making playoff runs the next couple years. Besides his numbers, Valverde brings a flair to the game, and has shown that he can get the job done when faced with adversity. Given that the Tigers may not have a viable option in-house ready to replace Valverde available, it might be best for the Tigers to continue the relationship with their current closer. If they can get him at a somewhat discounted price, they should probably just take it, but not more than 2 years or so.