Fantasy Relief: Bottom falling out for Valverde?

Perhaps it's time for Jose Valverde to tone down his on-the-mound celebrations and focus on getting back to being a shutdown arm. The eccentric Tigers' closer has had a rocky first two months, and if he is not careful, calls for his job might not be too far off.

Valverde was arguably the majors' most efficient closer in 2011, going a perfect 49 for 49 in save chances during the regular season. Unfortunately, he suffered his first blown save of the season in the opener against the Red Sox and suffered his third blown save of the season Saturday against the Yankees. Luckily for Valverde, he has won twice in blown-save situations, but something isn't right with the hefty closer nicknamed Papa Grande.

Valverde has relied heavily on his four-seam fastball again, throwing it 79.5 percent of the time. Sadly, he continues to lose velocity on that pitch. He is averaging 93.6 miles per hour, which is the third straight season it has been in decline. Valverde is also losing velocity on his second-most popular pitch -- split-finger fastball -- averaging just 84.4 mph. He was averaging 85.9 on that pitch last year.

But the drop in velocity isn't as alarming as the lack of movement Valverde is seeing on his four-seam fastball and his ability to fool hitters.

Valverde's horizontal movement on his four-seamer in 2011 was -7.03. In 2012, that number is -5.99. In 2011, Valverde was getting batters to whiff at a 9.8 percent rate and swing at a 46.4 percent clip on his four-seam fastball. In 2012, those numbers have dropped to 7.6 percent and 42.5 percent, respectively. Batters are making contact on 80.1 percent of Valverde's offerings, which is a career-worst, and swinging and missing just 8.4 percent of the time, which is also a career-low.

The key revelation here is that batters are being a little more patient with Valverde. But is that the only thing plaguing him?

He has a career-worst 6.3 walks-per-nine-innings rate this season. That number has only been over 5.0 once in Valverde's career and that was in 2004. Why's that significant? Because that season after taking the closer's job from Matt Mantei in May, Valverde would eventually lose the closer's job to Scott Service. Manager Bob Brenly eventually handed the job back to Valverde, but the then-26-year-old reliever would make his final appearance of the season on June 13, missing the rest of the year with shoulder and forearm problems. Perhaps Valverde is dealing with durability issues again in 2012.

The question beckons -- where does Valverde go from here? If you are a FIP and xFIP convert, then a rocky road lies ahead for Valverde. His ERA through 21 1/3 innings is 4.64, but his FIP is 5.02 and xFIP is 5.54, which indicates that his ERA should be higher than what it actually is.

Valverde missed some time in mid-May with a lower back strain. At that time, manager Jim Leyland tabbed Joaquin Benoit as his temporary closer, with Phil Coke as his backup option. In a year where closer instability has been the talk of the majors, Leyland might want to keep his contingency plan in place just in case his burly closer can't right the ship.

Closing Time

Each week we'll break down closer situations worthy of further examination ...

N.Y. Yankees: Baseball Insider Jon Heyman is reporting the Yankees are expected to keep Rafael Soriano in the closer's role once David Robertson comes off the disabled list in mid-June. It's not a shocking revelation and something we have been hinting at for weeks. Heyman got one scout to evaluate Robertson and said, "(Robertson) didn't look quite as comfortable closing games.'' Soriano is a perfect 7 for 7 in save situations and has the experience in the closer's role. Keeping Robertson as a dominant setup man is probably better for the Yankees' bullpen in the long run.

Top non-closers Week 9 (H2H)
Player Points
1. Chris Sale, RP, White Sox 65.5
2. Drew Hutchison, RP, Blue Jays 53
3. Felix Doubront, RP, Red Sox 46.5
4. Matt Moore, RP, Rays 35
5. Michael Fiers, RP, Brewers 27.5
6. Lance Lynn, RP, Cardinals 25.5
7. Felipe Paulino, RP, Royals 24.5
8. Jeff Samardzija, RP, Cubs 23
9. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 22.5
10. James Russell, RP, Cubs 20

Seattle: Remember when Mariners manager Eric Wedge said after removing Brandon League from the closer's role that everyone would be up for save chances except Hisashi Iwakuma? Well, you guessed right, Iwakuma has been the only Mariners reliever to record a save since League's demotion. However, it's not what you think. Iwakuma pitched the final three innings of a 21-8 win over Texas to record his first save and pitched the 12th inning of a 10-8 win against the White Sox after Wedge emptied out his bullpen. Tom Wihelmsen still seems like the ideal closer candidate, with Shawn Kelley perhaps emerging as a sleeper option down the road if he is able to regain his pre-elbow injury form. Another guy worth keeping tabs on is hard-throwing right-hander Stephen Pryor, who made his MLB debut on June 2. Pryor has experience closing in the minors and appears to have the arsenal to potentially close games. He did strike out 12.3 batters per nine innings in his minor-league career. Wedge has indicated he wants League back in the closer's role, but League continues to work through his problems in non-save outings, leaving the door open for other relievers to emerge with the job.

Chicago Cubs: Cubs manager Dale Sveum said over the weekend that the team is in no rush to get Carlos Marmol back in the closer's role despite Marmol's ability to finally throw strikes consistently since coming off the disabled list. Sveum also said he's not ready to put labels on his relievers, but it does seem as though James Russell is emerging as the leading candidate for saves. Russell recorded his first major-league save on May 29 against the Padres and returned the next day to pitch the ninth inning in a 6-6 game, eventually earning the win thanks to Darwin Barney's walk-off homer.

San Diego: The Dale Thayer experiment is coming to a close in San Diego. Huston Street has finally recovered from his lat injury and has resumed closer duties for the Padres. Thayer did well in the closer's role, converting all five of his save chances. Manager Bud Black now has a go-to reliever in case the oft-injured Street finds himself on the shelf again or perhaps is traded later this summer.

San Francisco: Another Giants closer is injured. After losing Brian Wilson for the season because of elbow problems, new closer Santiago Casilla is now day to day with a bruised right knee. It's unfortunate timing for Fantasy owners because the Giants had three save opportunities over the weekend. Javier Lopez closed out Friday's win after Casilla was hurt in the ninth inning, while Sergio Romo had consecutive saves Saturday and Sunday. However, it really seems as though Bochy doesn't want to make Romo a full-time closer, even if Casilla needs a DL stint. Lopez pitched to the first two batters in the ninth Saturday before Romo recorded a one-out save. Romo then came back Sunday to record a two-out save after Barry Zito couldn't go the distance in a 2-0 victory. Romo has emerged as one of the best relievers in the NL and it doesn't seem Bochy wants to pigeonhole him into using him exclusively in save situations. Romo mostly pitches as an eighth-inning setup man regardless, but it appears Bochy wants to be able to call on him at any moment and not have him unavailable because a save situation might arise later in a game. Romo is still probably the next in line for most save chances, even if they come in the one-out variety, but for now there is no talk of a DL stint for Casilla.

Top non-closers Week 9 (Rotisserie)
Player Rank
1. Tom Wilhelmsen, RP, Mariners 32
2. Clay Hensley, RP, Giants 41
3. Ernesto Frieri, RP, Angels 42
4. Matt Belisle, RP, Rockies 43
5. James Russell, RP, Cubs 48
6. Nate Jones, RP, White Sox 53
7. Luis Marte, RP, Tigers 54
8. Adam Ottavino, RP, Rockies 47
9. Glen Perkins, RP, Twins 48
10. Jeremy Accardo, RP, Indians 50

Arizona: David Hernandez had to fill in during a save situation last Wednesday because closer J.J. Putzwas out with a stiff neck. Bryan Shaw earned some saves for Arizona earlier this season, but Hernandez is the guy manager Kirk Gibson will likely turn to in the event Putz ever misses extended time. Hernandez had 11 saves last year for Arizona and has been locked in lately, posting a 1.96 ERA in his last 20 games (18 1/3 innings).

Call to the 'pen

Each week we'll break down pertinent Fantasy news with setup men and other relievers ...

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said Sunday he's trying to keep Brian Duensing out of the rotation, despite the team's need for starters. Duensing has thrived in a relief role this year and Gardenhire doesn't want to go searching for another quality left-handed reliever, which would happen if he moved Duensing into the rotation … Don't be too shocked that the Tigers have had Luis Marte toss at least three innings in each of his first two outings since coming off the disabled list. Marte is a former minor-league starter, so while he might no longer be conditioned to start, he still has the ability to fill in as another long reliever for Detroit. Marte could emerge as a viable Rotisserie Fantasy arm, especially if he ends up as a wins vulture and keeps up his current strikeout rate (8.1 K/9) … All the attention in the White Sox bullpen this season has been focused on the ever-changing closer situation, which for the time being seems settled on Addison Reed. But that distraction has overshadowed the work of rookie reliever Nate Jones, who is 3-0 with two holds, a 1.61 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 19 relief outings. He also has 28 strikeouts in 28 innings. Jones also is a former minor-league starter turned reliever, so he's probably most valuable to Chicago in a middle-relief role. But Jones did get some closer experience in 2011 for Double-A Birmingham, recording 11 saves, so perhaps his name might one day emerge if the closer situation remains unsettled in the Windy City … I should be Brad Brach's agent for as much publicity as I give the 26-year-old hurler, but I think he might also emerge as a closer candidate later in his career. He is still having some control problems in 2012, but Brach is finally starting to settle down and is becoming a strikeout machine for San Diego. He has recorded 22 strikeouts in his last 13 2/3 innings. If you are looking for strikeouts in a Rotisserie format, then consider adding Brach to your roster … Indians reliever Jeremy Accardo -- who's rediscovered his splitter -- has turned him into a very effective major-league reliever again. Accardo has produced a 1.69 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in eight appearances since his mid-May promotion from the minors. He also has struck out 12 batters in 10 2/3 innings. Accardo has mostly pitched in losses, but if he continues on his current path, Cleveland might find some hold situations for him. Don't forget: Accardo closed 30 games for Toronto in 2007 … I remember the days when Troy Patton was a promising starting pitcher prospect, but then his career was derailed because of injuries. Now that Patton is healthy, he has carved out a role in the Orioles' bullpen and is starting to show why he was a top prospect once upon a time. Patton has struck out 20 batters in his last 12 2/3 innings.

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