Valverde Another in Long Line of Infuriating Tigers Closers

I’m sick of hearing about Jose Valverde‘s 49-for-49 save streak last season. We all know how that was constructed: with far too many saves that looked like Saturday afternoon’s harrowing win against the Royals.

A lot has been written about Valverde’s intensity being dialed down a notch – or, apparently, disconnected altogether – when he’s in non-save situations. After the Tigers escaped with an 8-7 victory which should’ve been an 8-4 W, Valverde told reporters, “I wasn’t throwing my fastball for strikes. I don’t know what’s going on.”

[callout title=WHIP Posted by Recent Tigers Closers]
2001: Matt Anderson. 1.32 WHIP, 22 saves

2002: Juan Acevedo. 1.22 WHIP, 28 saves

2004: Ugueth Urbina. 1.29 WHIP, 21 saves

2005: Fernando Rodney. 1.27 WHIP, 9 saves

2009 Rodney. 1.46 WHIP, 37 saves

2010 Valverde. 1.16 WHIP, 26 saves

2011 Valverde. 1.18 WHIP, 49 saves

And in case you were wondering, Todd Jones posted his best WHIP (1.26) in his eight seasons with the Tigers in 2006. And for his part, Valverde amassed his best WHIP (1.16) in 2010, his first in Detroit.[/callout]
Whatever the man’s excuse, it got me thinking again about how the Tigers, unlike other A.L. Central clubs, haven’t had a lights-out closer in the same realm as Joe Nathan and, for a shorter but no less irritating stretch, Bobby Jenks.

Nathan has owned the Tigers since 2004 when he came to the Twins from the Giants. In 59 games against Detroit, Nathan is 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA and 35 saves in 59 appearances; plus, he has 74 strikeouts in 60.2 IP and a 0.907 WHIP. (He’s saved more games against one other club, 37 versus the Royals in just an inning less.) In his A.L. career, including his time with the Rangers this year, his WHIP is 0.952, not to mention a 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Now, on to Jenks. The Tigers mustered a bit more offense against him from 2005-10: 2-1, 2.68 ERA, 22 saves in 39 appearances; 44 strikeouts in 40.1 IP and a 1.091 WHIP. No, he wasn’t automatic, but darn close.

So I decided to look up Tigers closers with the best – or most Nathanesque – WHIP over the past 40 years, trying to find somebody – anybody – who came close to scaring opposing hitters late in the game.

Here’s what I found on Baseball-Reference.com: only two Detroit closers finished with a WHIP under 1.0 since 1972:

  • 1981: Kevin Saucier. 0.959 WHIP – 13 saves, 49 IP, 23 K
  • 1984: Willie Hernandez. 0.941 WHIP – 32 saves, 140.1 IP, 112 K
  • 1985: Hernandez. 0.90 WHIP – 31 saves, 106.2 IP, 76 K

That’s it for the shutdown closers.* Of course, Tigers relievers have posted stellar if not Nathan-
like performances in the past 40 seasons. Here are a few notable examples:

  • 1973: John Hiller. 1.021 WHIP, 38 saves, 125.1 IP, 124 K
  • 1977: Steve Foucault. 1.090 WHIP, 13 saves, 74.1 IP, 58 K
  • 1978: Hiller. 1.072 WHIP, 15 saves, 92.1 IP, 74 K
  • 1988: Mike Henneman. 1.05 WHIP, 22 saves, 91.1 IP, 58 K, 1.05 WHIP

*In the case of Hiller and Foucault, those were the days when closers routinely pitched two or three innings (sometimes more), so it’s clearly not apples-to-apples with today’s one-inning specialists.

All this is to say, outside of Hernandez in 1984 and ’85 and Hiller in 1973, the Tigers have not had an automatic guy in the ninth inning.

I think it’s safe to say we expected Joel Zumaya to be in the Joe Nathan/Mariano Rivera galaxy by this point of his career. Now we’ll have to wait and see if Bruce Rondon is the hammer we’ve been wait for.

In the meantime we’ll have ride the ninth-inning rapids with Valverde and hope that near-disasters like Saturday’s are the exception, not the rule.

Yeah right.

Game 163: Microcosm, The Sequel Nutshell

ESPN highlights available here.
knockedoutboxer.jpg
The Score: Twins 6 – Tigers 5, 12 innings

The Gist: The Tigers and Twins played a game for the ages and both teams followed the respective scripts of the past three weeks. For the Tigers, that meant squandering countless opportunities and watching a division lead evaporate. For the Twins: everything going their way. Rick Porcello was awesome, Miguel Cabrera showed up for the first part of the game and Fernando Rodney, while taking the loss, pitched almost brilliantly in what was assuredly his last Tigers performance.

The Quote: “No matter what we did, it seems like it wasn’t meant to be. This is the best game, by far, that I’ve ever played in no matter the outcome.”Brandon Inge

The Stat: 1 – The go-ahead run scored by Don Kelly in the 10th. Oh, how I wish it would’ve held up…for his sake.

Up Next: Spring Training, Lakeland, Fla., February 2010

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Disco Demolition Night 30 Years Later

Disco guy.jpgYeah, so Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney ruined our night tonight. We’re used to that. Take heart. The Tigers still cling to first place.

Doesn’t do much for you? Me either.

So instead of cursing the Tigers bullpen, let’s travel back 30 years to July 12, 1979 and revisit Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park, courtesy of Joe LaPointe‘s article in yesterday’s New York Times.

Unlike the commonplace pyrotechnics of Zumaya/Rodney, this doubleheader included the on-field destruction of disco albums between games. Then things got, well, unruly. As Alan Trammell sums it up:

“The outfielders were definitely a little scared and Ronnie (LeFlore) wasn’t usually afraid of anything.”

The thing I remember most about that game was watching Sox owner Bill Veeck limp out on the field with his wooden leg — I had no idea he lost an appendage — to beg the rock-and-rollers to get off the field (and keep their rainchecks!). And I can still hear George Kell trying to describe the action without falling into a “kids-these-days” rant. (Or did he? Does anyone else remember?)

Even Dave Dombrowski, then a 22-year-old gopher for White Sox GM Roland Hemond, had a role in keeping the peace.

Oh, as for the games, the Tigers swept the double-dip 4-1 in the opener and then won the nightcap in a 9-0 forfeit. The victories brought the Tigers within 14 games of the division lead.

What are your memories of Disco Demolition Night?

2009 Player Profile: Fernando Rodney

Fernando Rodney #56

  • Height: 5′ 11″ | Weight: 220
  • 2008 Stats: 0-6, 4.91 ERA, 13 Saves

In a bottom-line business like major league baseball, fans tend to overlook stats such as 49 strikeouts in 40 innings or 13 saves from a late-inning reliever like Fernando Rodney. RodneyHead.jpgSix blown saves and an ERA a whisker under five are more glaring and more representative of Detroit’s bullpen woes in 2008. Yet despite that lackluster campaign, the Tigers expect big things from Rodney in ’09.

Though he spent April and May on the DL, the ’08 season wasn’t all bad for the senior-ranking Tiger in the bullpen; he assembled stretches of lights-out appearances, including June and July in which hitters produced a .183 average against him. Over that same timeframe he fanned 37 in 27.1 innings pitched. The key to success for Rodney is a breathtaking changeup that, when near the plate, is difficult for hitters to resist. Of course, a high-90s fastball makes the off-speed pitches that much more tantalizing.

With Todd Jones’ retirement, Brandon Lyon‘s arrival and Joel Zumaya’s (tentative) return, chances are that Rodney will begin 2009 as a setup man. If something goes wrong with Lyon or Zumaya and if Rodney can harness his pitches, develop consistency, and fortify his mental makeup, he could, in the end, be the Tigers’ answer at closer.

For a pitcher with Rodney’s track record, that’s an awful lot of ifs.

The Top 10 Tigers Stories of 2008: #6 – Joel Zumaya Gets Hurt Again

Number6.jpgThe Tigers were likely ecstatic when Joel Zumaya managed a quicker-than-expected return from shoulder reconstruction. A healthy Zumaya (and Fernando Rodney) was to revitalize a rickety bullpen and fill in the sizable reliability gap late in games. Except they didn’t.

Zumaya was cleared to play in late June and appeared in 21 games (23.1 IP).

It all came crashing down again on August 12 against Toronto at Comerica Park:

The Tigers had a two-run lead with two outs in the seventh inning with the middle of the Blue Jays order coming up. All five batters he faced reached base safely, fueling a four-run rally in a 6-4 Detroit loss and fueling the speculation that something is wrong with Zumaya.

“We’re very suspicious that he’s not right,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I mean, enough’s enough. It’s not his fault. We’re just getting him checked out for precautionary measures.

“I know he’s not right. I don’t know if he’s hurt, but he’s definitely not right. I know that for a fact.”

A month after the disastrous appearance against the Blue Jays, Zumaya was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right shoulder.

He finished his truncated season 0-2 with a 3.57 ERA. He allowed 24 hits, 22 walks, 22 strikeouts and 13 runs (nine of them earned). And he blew four of five save opportunities.

When the season started, the Tigers weren’t counting on Zumaya for much of a contribution. But Todd Jones began to show his age and the speedy recovery by Zumaya changed everything.

Or so it seemed.