Valverde is dead, long live Valverde
I’ve come to you today to share a hard truth that I believe many Tigers fans have come to understand but which doesn’t seem to be sinking into the heads of Detroit management: it’s time to drop Valverde.
Hopefully after their stunning 13-3 loss, a game which saw Valverde give up four meaningless runs in the ninth off of five pitches, it’s become clear to Dombrowski that Valverde has wore out and has no juice left.
It’s a sad truth but there’s only so many times you can watch the man flouder on the mound before the obviousness of this truth hits you like a 100 mph fast ball to the face.
Watching Papa Grande’s decline over the last two years has been a grim reminder of the fickle fates that define the careers of professional athletes: Valverde isn’t even out of his 30’s yet and his prime time career is finished.
His decline has the unfortunate affect of creating a sense of amnesia in the sports world. Tigers fans understandably forget that Valverde was, for a time, very nearly one of the best closer Detroit has ever had.
Follow me, sports fans, through an intriguing maze of successes and failures for I’ve come to praise Jose Valverde, not bury him.
Valverde made his MLB debut in 2013 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his time there, he became the Diamondbacks all-time saves leader, played in the 2007 MLB All-Star game and led the MLB with 47 saves.
In late 2007, he was traded to the Astros for pitchers Chad Qualls, Jaun Gutierrez and infielder Chris Burke. Yes, there was a time when Valverde was a desired enough closer that he was worth three players.
His first year in Houston went swimmingly: he picked up 44 saves in 51 chances, had a 6-4 record, 83 strike outs and an ERA of 3.38. He led the NL in 2008 and was second in the MLB for saves.
It’s easy for Tigers fans not to know this kind of information (I had to look it up) and to focus only on his last few seasons. Yes, Valverde blew it in the post-season last year. Yes, he’s blowing it now. But do you remember how he started his career in Detroit?
By picking up an ERA of 0.94 in the first half of the season and setting a team record of 24 scoreless innings in 2010 and heading to the All-Star game with Verlander and Cabrera. He ended the season with an ERA of 3.0 and 26 saves.
Valverde had another great year in 2011, recording his 200th save, making it to his third All-Star game and serving as the game’s closer.
Papa Grande then broke another record for the Tigers by picking up his 43rd save of the season and ending his season with his 49th straight save for a perfect regular season.
That’s right: there was a time when Valverde was one of the most dominant closing pitchers in the game, winning the 2011 MLB Delivery Man of the Year award and coming in fifth in the 2011 Cy Young Award voting (won, of course, by Verlander).
All good things, of course, come to a close. Injuries have tended to haunt him over the last few years and they, combined with aging and dropping physical fitness has slowed his fastball immensely and caused his slider, once his trademark pitch, to evaporate.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Tigers fans felt a sigh of relief when Valverde walked to the mound. The man had a single job and he was the best at it. When he popped his suspenders and cheered like a loon at the end of each game it accentuated this dominance.
Now, every game is a nail biter: will he do it? Will he give up four runs in the bottom of the game and single handedly cost his team the win? He’s given up four runs in the ninth twice already this season though only once really mattered.
Will he hold it together well enough so that hits to the outfielder are easily fielded instead of homeruns? How many hits will he give up before he strikes out a hitter?
Will he even throw a single strike? Will we have the chance to once again watch his infamous celebration dance that has endeared him to Detroit as both a player and a human being or will we once again watch him walk off the field with his head down, having blown an inning, a game or even a whole series?
The most brutal aspect of the ordeal is knowing that he knows he’s lost it. You can see it in his celebration dance. It’s still the same but it seems too intense, too emotional.
It now has a sense of desperation and fear: it’s not so much the victory shout of a man who knows he’s the best but a scream of relief that he didn’t cost his team another game.
Its a shame to have to say that about a player who has contributed so much to the team but the unavoidable truth is that Jose Valverde is simply not the pitcher he once was and it is past his time to go.
However, as he goes don’t call him a bum or boo too loudly about his collapse as a player. Try to remember those times when he was the best and give him a standing ovation and the appreciation he has earned.