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.

Robert Fick: Ultimate Friend and Teammate

Former Tigers catcher Robert Fick earned his reputation as a bad seed thanks to some poor on-field decisions and in-flight activities.

If you followed the Tigers during his five years (and five uniform numbers) in Detroit, you won’t be surprised by this Fick-related anecdote from former-Tigers flamethrower Matt Anderson:

First Anderson drove from Louisville to Atlanta to say goodbye to the kids. Then he headed west to California to see his friend and former Tigers teammate, Robert Fick, who had possession of the two game gloves — a Mizuno and a Rawlings — that Anderson used during his last stint in pro ball.

After continually badgering Fick to send him the gloves, to no avail, Anderson figured it would be easier to just pass through California on his way to Phoenix and pick them up in person.

“For Robert to muster up what it took to go to the packing store, find my address and all that stuff, I didn’t think that was going to happen,” Anderson said.

I, for one, am hoping that Anderson’s comeback is successful. The fact he’s back on the radar, however temporarily, makes me wonder what an Anderson-Zumaya-Perry bullpen might look like.

As for Fick, well, never mind.

Tuesday Tananas: Greenberg, Anderson and Timo Time

With about a month to go before pitchers and catchers arrive in Lakeland, here are some various and sundry Tigers items to keep you warm as you wait:

  • On this date in 1947, the Tigers sold All-Star first baseman Hank Greenberg to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1946, Greenberg led the American League with 44 home runs and 127 RBI, but slumped to 25 home runs and 74 RBI with the Pirates — though today that would be worth $12 million per year. Greenberg retired after the 1947 season.
  • A Matt Anderson comeback? Ian says it’s so.
  • Fresh off the Brad Penny signing — and before Armando Galarraga avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year deal of his own — we asked how Galarraga fits into the Tigers’ pitching staff. Here’s what the voters said:

    • Spot starter and long reliever in the bullpen (60%, 272 Votes)
    • Still in the Tigers’ rotation. (25%, 115 Votes)
    • Some other team. (15%, 68 Votes)

    UPDATE: Moments after I posted this, I saw that the Tigers designated Galarraga for assignment. Discuss.

  • Speaking of starting pitchers, am I the only one surprised that Jeremy Bonderman has generated so little interest this offseason? I thought he’d at least get a minor-league deal with someone — maybe his hometown Mariners. So far, though, no bites. In his Sunday notes column, the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo identifies a couple possible suitors for Bondo.
  • How did I miss the news that Timo Perez is back in the Tigers organization? As the Toledo Blade’s terrific Mud Hens blog points out, the Tigers didn’t invite Perez to spring training which nixes his chances of playing time in Detroit.
  • Depending on how the Tigers’ Opening Day roster shapes up, Timo Time could end up in Toledo or perhaps Double-A Erie. At 37, why would he want to ride the buses in minor leagues? To paraphrase Joe Riggins, manager of the fictional Durham Bulls: “Because he can keep comin’ to the ballpark and keep gettin’ paid to do it.”

Speaking of Crash Davis, today’s the birthday of Kevin Costner. He’s 56.