Jose Valverde to Detroit

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.

Papa Grande’s signing ends any notion of Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya or newly-acquired Daniel Schlereth closing out games for the Tigers.

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

2006: 84.4%
2007: 77.8%
2008: 74.1%
2009: 69.4%

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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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


10 Responses to “Jose Valverde to Detroit”

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  1. TJ says:

    I can’t understand this signing at all.

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  2. Jon E says:

    I was very encouraged by Dave Dombrowski’s off-season moves prior to this signing. But he’s made a mis-step here. There was no reason to sign a good-not-great relief pitcher for this kind of money and sacrificing the draft pick.

    The Tigers’ minor league system is improving but its not good enough or deep enough to be tossing this #19 pick aside as a tax penalty for signing Valverde.

    Valverde is a better pitcher than Kevin Gregg or Octavio Dotel in all likelihood…but he’s not BETTER ENOUGH to justify the extra cost and draft penalty.

    The Tigers draft in 2008 was completely devoted to drafting hard-throwing college relief pitchers. You’d have to assume that one of those dozen guys would have been a “closer in waiting” soon enough….now they have Papa Grande at $7M per year plus the worth of the pick. A poor use of resources. Valverde is a good pitcher…..Dombrowski made a questionable move.

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  3. the fume says:

    again, if you use fangraphs WAR, it will tell you that Jhonny Peralta is more valuable than Mariano Rivera. But if you look at something like REW, you could conservatively say he is worth 1 win above average. Factor in leverage, that probably means 1.5 wins to the team (Perry, the previous closer candidate, I would say is a decidedly average pitcher, so you’re not taking that bonus from somebody else). Bumping everyone in the pen down a role, you can figure at least another 0.5 wins. So I’d say this means 2 wins per season. And that’s being conservative….you could easily argue he’s worth more than 1 win above average.

    Also, when you factor out signing bonus the 1st round pick is worth closer to $5M.

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  4. jtshow says:

    is it a player, team or mutual option?

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  5. mowill says:

    I have a feeling Valverde will pitch alot more high leverage innings and finish with closer to seventy total innings. That should get him closer to the 1.2-1.4 win range making the contract more acceptable.

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  6. Mr X says:

    “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.”

    IMO, that is very short sighted and is only true If Valverde retires while wearing a Detroit uniform. Valverde could be traded again and get the equivalent of that 19th pick in return.

    Two years ago (Dec. 2007), Valverde was traded to Houston for utility man Chris Burke (1st round 10th pick overall in the 2001 draft), now set-up man Juan Gutierrez , and now closer Chad Qualls (2nd round pick, 67th pick overall in the year 2000 draft). Not a bad a bad haul.

    Obviously his value hasn’t went down any. Last week he was still worth $7M and a 19th draft pick, in a cash strapped market on a cash strapped team.

    FIP consistently over-estimates or under-estimates ERA, even with the elite closers, such as Papelbon, Rivera, Nathan, and Soria.

    FIP is dictated mostly by HR’s issued. With the small sample size that closers have, FIP is a terrible indicator for ERA or WAR value.

    According to FIP a home run is worth 13 points and is the same as giving up 4.1 walks (3 points per walk). You need to serious question that before making it the basis for your argument. Giving up 4.1 walks in a game is far far worse for a closer because they’re usually just pitching one inning. 4.1 walks is 20+ pitches and impending doom, whereas a HR, is just one bad pitch and maybe just one run.

    I wish you gents would question some of the sabermetrics before making them gospel. I love fangraphs and think sabermetrics has revolutionized the industry, but this FIP formula and WAR value on closers is just lacking some basic logic in my view.

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    • Mr X says:

      Now here’s an example where the math gets even sillier:

      What if a closer gives up 2 homers in a single inning?
      2 Homers = 26 points
      26 points = 8.66 Walks

      Which closer do you want? The one that gives up 2 homers in a game or the one that gives up 8 walks? 8 walks in one inning is at least 5 runs. 2 homers in an inning might be just 2 runs.

      I hope you see the problem here.

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      • Nick says:

        The point of FIP is not to make determinations on how many walks a home run is worth. What would even be an approximate “correct” comparison of walks vs. home runs? Sure, 4 walks could easily be worse than a single home run in an inning. However, it could easily be the reverse: the 4 walk inning might yield only 1 run while the homer in a different inning was a 3 run shot.

        And it makes much more sense if you emerge from just using one inning. I’d rather have a pitcher give up 1 walk per inning over 4 innings than a pitcher give up one home run over a 4 inning period.

        In any case, FIP and WAR are not the quadratic formula. They are more accurate when used to analyze large pools of data. They are not meant to be 100% precise when parsed. And those stats have limitations when discussing relief pitching for sure. However, not in the way that you describe.

        I see this comment a lot–”why don’t you ever question SABR stats?” What makes you think the fangraphs writers haven’t? Are you under the impression that Dave Cameron pulls formulas out of his rear end and no one ever wonders where they came from? And whoever said they were gospel? Like any other form of statistical analysis, these metrics are constantly examined and critiqued. I’m not sure why you expect that examination to be done in an article about Jose Valverde, however.

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  7. jirish says:

    I’ll guess that Valverde was signed because Jim Leyland’s health can’t take the fireworks the Tigers have endured in the 9th inning the last couple of seasons. Rodney? Saves were never easy for him; before him Jones fell off of the cliff. They have some nice young arms to sort through in the pen. It’s doubtful any more than 1 or 2 or going to be close to reliable as soon as 2010.

    If they want to avoid signing and paying for the Valverde’s of the world, they’d do better hiring away the guys that put together the A’s bullpens.

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