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.

The Monday Report: Power Rankings, Masao Kida and Johnny Cash

The Tigers embark on their final roadtrip of the season and Detroit fans can gleefully bid adieu to Ozzie Guillen and his band of jolly outlaws.

Leading Off: The Tigers beat the Twins 2-1 yesterday for the club’s ninth straight win — their first of that length since May 1984. Doug Fister shutout the Twins over seven innings for the win, while Jose Valverde posted his club-record 43rd save of the season. Delmon Young led the Tigers with two hits and an RBI.

[callout title=The Monday Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 10.5 games ahead of the White Sox.

The magic number is 7.

Today’s Game: Rick Porcello (13-8, 4.87) vs. John Danks (6-11, 4.09 ERA) | 8:10 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Porcello

With a win tonight, Porcello would match his career high established during his rookie season with the Tigers in 2009.

He’s compiled a 2-0 record and 2.75 ERA over his last three starts. And, he’s issued two-or-fewer walks in 23 of his 27 outings for the Tigers this season.

Notes on Danks

In his last start, last Tuesday in Minnesota, Danks suffered the third loss in his last 13 starts.allowing five runs (four earned) on six hits over six innings.

He became just the third pitcher since 1961 to go 0-8 before June 1. The 0-8 start was the first by a pitcher who won 15 games or more the previous season since Montreal’s Dale Murray in 1976 (also 0-8).

[/callout]

ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume says that if there were a catchers draft, Alex Avila should be the easy number-one selection:

Avila has been the best catcher in baseball this season. Among the game’s everyday catchers — let’s say those who have started more than 100 games behind the plate — Avila leads the majors with a .300 batting average, .391 on-base percentage, .522 slugging percentage and .913 OPS. He’s No. 1 across the board. Remember, this hypothetical applies to catching actual games, not your fantasy league team, so forget about Victor Martinez or Mike Napoli — the guy you draft has to actually crouch down and catch for you every day. Avila has done exactly that for the Tigers.

Austin Jackson enters tonight’s game having hit safely in each of his last 15 games against the White Sox. He is hitting .403 with four doubles, three triples, three home runs and nine RBI during the 15-game stretch.

Looking for some autographed Tigers memorabilia? You’re in luck. MGOAuction.com, an auction site of primarily University of Michigan sports memorabilia, has several Tigers items up for bid. The items include autographed baseballs signed by Justin Verlander, Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks, Brandon Inge and other items signed by Alex Avila, Al Kaline and Todd Jones. Proceeds benefit a series of undergraduate scholarships at UM including the Bernard “Pat” Maloy Cancer Scholarship, the Shelly Kovacs Scholarship. Check out MGoAuction.com.

The Tigers have finally leap-frogged the Diamondbacks in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings this week and earned a spot a number four. (Though they couldn’t crack John Kruk’s rankings.) And, the Tigers are this week’s U.S. Army Team of the Week.

Eighty years ago today at Fenway Park, Eddie Durham and the Tigers Arthur “Red” Herring faced off in a 13-inning pitching duel. Durham won, 1-0.

The funny thing about this nine-game winning streak and 10-1/2-game lead? The anti-Jim Leyland crowd sure has been quiet.

Birthdays! Happy 71st to Mickey Lolich, Happy 55th to Mark Thurmond, Happy 52nd to Scotti Madison, and Happy 43rd to Masao Kida.

Finally, music legend Johnny Cash died on this date in 2003 at the age of 71. Let’s remember him with one of his classic songs, “A Boy Named Sue.”

The Daily (Continental) Breakfast: July 28, 2011

[callout title=The Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, two games ahead of the Indians and a mere 3.5 games ahead of the White Sox.

There are three days left until the trade deadline.

Today’s game: Brad Penny (5-5, 4.61 ERA) vs. Joel Pineiro (7-7, 4.51 ERA) | 1:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1

FYI: Penny surrendered three runs in the first inning of his start on July 6 against the Angels, but he earned the win as the Tigers rallied for a 5-4 victory.

On this date in 1989 the Tigers acquired lefty Brian Dubois from the Orioles for aging infielder Keith Moreland. On July 28, 1993, Travis Fryman collected five hits and hit for the cycle in a 12-7 loss to the Yankees. And 10 years ago today, Detroit picked up port-sider Mark Redman from the Twins for reliever Todd Jones.

[/callout]Good soggy morning in The D. The Tigers grounds crew is earning its keep today getting Comerica Park ready for today’s matinee opener against the Angels.

The Leadoff: John Danks mystified a Tigers lineup cut that suddenly looked as if it was cut from the Craig Monroe cloth: see ball, swing. The predictable outcome? A 2-1 loss to the White Sox.

Around the Central: The Indians, who acquired Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs, were no-hit by the Angels’ Ervin Santana — but scratched across a run — and lost 3-1. The Royals lost 12-5 to the Red Sox and the Twins beat the Rangers, 7-2. Did anyone notice the Indians are now only two games above .500?

Penny’s Bizarro World: Penny has limited lefthanded hitters to a .244 batting average this season. Righthanded hitters are batting .322 with Penny on the mound in 2011.

Today’s Blast from the Past: Here are three former short-time Tigers for your consideration: Francisco Cruceta, Doug Flynn and Mickey Mahler.

Finally, Happy 68th Birthday to basketball hall of famer and former U.S. senator Bill Bradley.

All-Star Game Notes and Non Sequiturs

Sometimes I want to rail on Major League Baseball about the lameness of so many things it does — the vapid celebrity softball game, the interminable Home Run Derby, the “this-time-it-counts” angle on the All-Star Game — but then I realize it’s probably me just getting old.

  • The Tigers’ collection of All Stars is the largest since 1985 when the club sent six players to the Metrodome for the game managed by Sparky Anderson. Here’s a look at the largest classes of Tigers All Stars since 1984 and the team’s record that season:

1984 (104-58)
Willie Hernandez
Chet Lemon
Jack Morris
Lance Parrish
Alan Trammell
Lou Whitaker

1985 (84-77)
Willie Hernandez
Jack Morris
Lance Parrish
Dan Petry
Alan Trammell
Lou Whitaker

2007 (88-74)
Carlos Guillen
Magglio Ordonez
Placido Polanco
Ivan Rodriguez
Justin Verlander

2009 (86-77)
Curtis Granderson
Brandon Inge
Edwin Jackson
Justin Verlander

Clearly, the better the Tigers were, the more players they sent to the All-Star Game. For a long time though, the Tigers were a team that had little to offer the American League manager. From 1996 through 2003, Detroit sent a single player to the game. In some cases the pickings were particularly slim (see 2002).

1996 (53-109)
Travis Fryman

1997 (79-83)
Justin Thompson

1998 (65-97)
Damion Easley

1999 (69-92)
Brad Ausmus

2000 (79-83)
Todd Jones

2001 (66-96)
Tony Clark

2002 (55-106)
Robert Fick

2003 (43-119)
Dmitri Young

Ugly, no?

  • I still think it’s remarkable that Alex Avila is the starting catcher in tonight’s game. Whoda thunk it, especially after a dreadful Opening Day series against the Yankees when Avila looked about as lost as a player can look. I guess that’s why, as Rod Allen says, you play the games. Jason Beck has a nice piece recapping the Tigers’ All Stars’ respective experiences in Phoenix.
  • The water is so far past being under the bridge, but isn’t it still a bit weird to see Curtis Granderson starting in the All-Star Game … as a Yankee?
  • Six years ago today in the Home Run Derby at Comerica Park, Bobby Abreu destroyed the records for a single round, the championship round and the grand total for all three rounds of the derby by hitting 41 homers into every part of yard. The Phillies outfielder went deep 24 times in the first round, tacks on six more in the second round and finishes with 11 more in the championship round.
  • Looking ahead to the pitching matchups for this weekend’s series against the White Sox:

Friday | 7:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1
Justin Verlander (12-4, 2.15 ERA) vs. Gavin Floyd (6-9, 4.59 ERA)

Saturday | 4:10 p.m. FOX/1270 & 97.1
Max Scherzer (10-4, 4.69 ERA) vs. Edwin Jackson (5-7, 4.30 ERA)

Sunday | 1:05 p.m. FSD/1270 & 97.1
Brad Penny (6-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. Jake Peavy (4-2, 4.83 ERA)

Finally, on this date in 1979 the White Sox were forced to forfeit the second game of twi-night doubleheader against the Tigers when more tha5,000 fans refuse to leave the field during Disco Demolition Night. I wrote about it on the 30th anniversary.

Sunday Snacks: RIP Woodie Fryman, A Fantasy Camper Says Goodbye and More!

When I was just starting to collect baseball cards, the first thing I always did upon opening a new pack was to flip the card over to see if the player ever was a member of the Tigers.WoodieFryman

Because my memory latches on to such random things, I clearly remember when I turned over the 1977 Topps Woodie Fryman card and saw that he played for the Tigers from 1972-74.

Fryman passed away on Friday in Lexington, Ky., at the age of 70.

Fryman won 141 games from 1966-83 with the Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. He pitched primarily in relief late in his career, saving 17 games for Montreal in 1980.

Fryman had four career one-hitters – including a nearly perfect game when he was a Pittsburgh rookie. He gave up a leadoff hit to the New York Mets, the runner was caught stealing and Fryman didn’t allow anyone else on base.

In 1972, Fryman joined the Tigers in the middle of the season and went 10-3 with a 2.06 ERA for them, helping Detroit win the American League East.

He was elected to the Expos Hall of Fame in 1995.

I was too young to see Fryman work his half-season magic. Do any of you remember seeing him pitch for the Tigers?

  • My friend Chuck passed along this story which appeared last week in The Wall Street Journal. The piece focuses on Bill “Pappy” Holcomb, a 71-year-old retired autoworker, who’s ending his 22-season Tigers Fantasy Camp career.The main thread of the story is the aging of Fantasy Camp attendees:

    The Tigers this year had 190 campers, with an average age of 54. In 1985, the average age was 44. Teams that started their camps more recently tend to have a lower average age, around 50, but they also find themselves catering to older, more-infirm players.

    Be sure to view the slideshow that accompanies the article. You’ll see a photo that includes Steve Kemp.

     

  • In our most recent Fungo Flash Poll we asked, If you could choose one, which Tigers killer would you like to see in Detroit?
    1. Grady Sizemore (20 percent, 199 Votes)
    2. Denard Span (17 percent, 171 Votes)
    3. Joe Nathan (16 percent, 162 Votes)
    4. Jim Thome (13 percent, 129 Votes)
    5. Carl Pavano (12 percent, 116 Votes)
    6. Paul Konerko (11 percent, 106 Votes)
    7. Michael Cuddyer (9 percent, 85 Votes)

    Others receiving votes: Joe Crede, Luke Scott and, based on an interesting perspective, Todd Jones.

    I was stunned to see Sizemore earn the most votes and expected to see Konerko or Thome at the top.

    Thanks to the nearly 1,000 voters in this poll. Watch for another poll soon.

     

  • I’m still amazed that the Tigers cut ties with Jeremy Bonderman. As I said on the podcast last week, the Tigers could certainly use someone of Bondo’s caliber for spot starting a la Eddie Bonine or Chad Durbin, et al. Instead it looks like he’s headed to Cleveland and the Plain Dealer‘s Terry Pluto explains why:

    They did offer him a minor-league contract, but he rejected it. The market for Bonderman is slim because of that 6.50 ERA (and 13 HR in 73 innings) after the All-Star break — when his average fastball dropped from 92 mph to 88. The Indians believe fatigue was the reason.

    (snip)

    The Indians are looking at Bonderman because you can never have enough starting pitching.

    Apparently the Tigers think you can.

     

  • This story isn’t Tigers related but it’s fascinating nonetheless. If you’ve followed the Bernie Madoff story even peripherally over the past few years, you know the devastation his Ponzi scheme has inflicted on countless people.This article in The New York Times provides a window into Madoff’s ties to the Mets’ owners — and what role Madoff played in managing the deferred income included in player contracts.

Finally, if you, like me, are a sucker for the Dos Equis commercials featuring The Most Interesting Man in the World, The New Yorker introduces us to the actor who plays him.

Stay thirsty, my friends.

Sunday Snacks: Sparky Leftovers

SaltySnacks.jpgAs much as I want to bash the re-signing of Jhonny Peralta, I’m going to rely on lessons learned from 2005 when the Tigers inexplicably signed Kenny RogersKenny Rogers?! — and Todd JonesTodd Jones?!. Those signings turned out pretty well, all things considered.

Besides, I don’t have the energy to get all riled up; watching that Michigan game wore me out.

  • With the exception of the Detroit papers, most obituaries on Sparky Anderson have been wire copy. The notable exceptions include this one from The New York Times and this one from the closest thing to a hometown paper, The Los Angeles Times.

  • On case you were wondering about how the newspaper in Sparky’s real hometown, his birthplace, Bridgewater, S.D., covered his passing, well, they didn’t as far as I can tell.

  • Here’s one more for you on Sparky, courtesy of Chris Jaffe at Hardball Times.

  • The guys at Stadium Journey keep churning out great reviews of ballparks and arenas around the country. Recently they posted their review of Fifth Third Field in Toledo.

  • We all know that the Cardinals had no business beating the Tigers in the 2006 World Series. Now the rest of the world is reminded of it thanks to this piece by Joe Posnanski on SI.com in which he ranks the 10-weakest World Series winners since 1946. Savor the ’06 Cardinals’ ranking: the second-weakest.

  • Speaking of Mr. Posnanski, he wrote a terrific piece, of course, on Sparky.

Finally, Happy 53rd Birthday to Christopher Knight, who played Peter on “The Brady Bunch.”

Friday Freehans: Interleague Gumbo

BillFreehan.jpgInterleague play is back! What’s that? You haven’t missed it?

  • As the Pirates come to town let’s do an interleague reset: Since interleague play started in 1997, the Tigers have compiled a 124-108 record, 57-33 in interleague games at Comerica Park. This year they’re 1-2.

  • In a related note, here’s the good news coming into this weekend: The Tigers’ next three series are against teams that are an average of nine games under .500. Then again, their last three series were against teams that are an average of 10 games under so draw whatever conclusions you will.

    Continue reading “Friday Freehans: Interleague Gumbo”