According to MLB.com’s Jason Beck, free agent reliever Jose Valverde has come to terms with the Detroit Tigers on a two-year, $14 million contract, with a $9 million option for the 2012 season. Because Valverde is a Type A free agent, the Houston Astros will receive Detroit’s first-round pick (19th overall) in the 2010 amateur draft, as well as a supplemental first-round selection.
Thirty-two in March, Valverde has a career 3.47 Expected Fielding Independent ERA (xFIP). Over the last three seasons, he has a 3.59 xFIP, with 10.26 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.31 BB/9. It’s worth noting that Valverde’s K rate has declined four years running, from 12.59 per nine frames in 2006 to 9.33 K/9 in 2009.
The former Diamondback and Astro made some changes to his approach over that time. Counter intuitively, Valverde’s punch out rate declined while his percentage of fastballs thrown decreased:
Valverde’s fastball percentage, 2006-2009
Valverde’s fastball velocity has trended up: 93.5 MPH in ’06, 93.4 in ’07, 95.5 in ’08 and a sizzling 95.8 in ’09.
The 6-4 right-hander has mixed in more mid-80′s splitters: 9.8% in 2006, 20% in 2007, 24.4% in 2008 and 26.9% this past year. Firing fastballs less often and relying more on the splitter, Valverde has tossed fewer pitches in the strike zone and has become more adept at garnering swings outside of the zone:
2006: 59.2 Zone%, 22.3 O-Swing%
2007: 55.4 Zone%, 24.4 O-Swing%
2008: 52.5 Zone%, 33 O-Swing%
2009: 52.3 Zone%, 32 O-Swing%
(The MLB average for Zone% has been between 49-52% from 2006-2009, while the average O-Swing% has been between 23-25%)
So, he’s throwing fewer fastballs and more splitters, while putting fewer pitches over the plate and getting more outside swings. Those trends might lead you to believe that he would induce more swings and misses, but that hasn’t been the case. The reason? Valverde’s blistering fastball actually has a higher whiff rate than his splitter.
Valverde’s four-seamer had a 15.2% whiff rate in 2008 and a 12.6 whiff% in 2009. For reference, the average for righty pitchers is about six percent. His splitter, by contrast, had a 13.3% whiff rate in ’08 and a 12.2% mark in ’09 (the MLB average is 12-13 percent). Both offerings get the job done, though. Since 2007, Valverde’s fastball (+0.88 runs/100 pitches) and split (+0.79) have been similarly effective on a per-pitch basis.
CHONE has Valverde compiling a 3.87 FIP in 2010, with 8.37 K/9 and 3.47 BB/9 in 57 innings pitched. That comes out to about 0.7 Wins Above Replacement, the same total that Valverde posted in 2009.
A win is thought to cost roughly $4.5 million on the free agent market. The Tigers figure to get 1.5 to 2 wins out of Valverde’s two guaranteed years, meaning the club is paying something like $7 to 9+ million per win. Of course, you also have to consider the cost of losing a first-round pick (about $6.5 million, according to Victor Wang’s research). With the lost draft pick factored in, Detroit may be shelling out between $10+ million to $13+ million per win. If you think that’s a good deal, then I have beachfront property in Pittsburgh to sell you.
For fantasy purposes, Valverde is a good second-tier option. He’s not in the same class as the Riveras, Nathans and Sorias of the world, but if your investment in Papa Grande is more moderate than Detroit’s, you won’t get buyer’s remorse.
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