Despite being linked to him numerous times throughout the offseason, it is “really, really unlikely” that the Mets sign Jose Valverde, a team source told Adam Rubin of ESPN New York. It is possible that the Mets may need one more piece for the back end of the bullpen, but their hesitation with Valverde makes complete sense.
Valverde, 34, is coming off a down year by his standards. He saved 35 games for the Tigers last season, but collapsed down the stretch and in the postseason. He gave up nine runs in just 2.2 innings in the playoffs after posting a 5.02 ERA in September. Some fans might say that it was just a bad stretch, and that every good pitcher has a down year every once in a while. However, there are some subtle signs that Valverde isn’t anything near what he used to be, and is no longer good enough to be a full-time close.
Valverde has never had excellent command, walking 3.8 batters per nine innings throughout his career. He has had to make up for that with dominating stuff, as many closers do. And from 2004 through 2007, he had a 11.5 K/9 rate in 260 innings pitched. Since 2007, however, he has seen a steady decline in his strikeout rates. At one point, it may have been due to simple luck, but it became a disturbing trend and now, it’s at the point where you just can’t ignore it. In 2006 with Arizona, Valverde struck out 12.5 batters per nine, or 30.9%. The next year, in his age 30 season, it hit 29.4. In 2008, it continued to fall to 27.4%. That percentage fell and fell, until it hit a career-low of 16.3%. Basically, he is striking out just half the batters that he used to.
Looking even deeper into the numbers, you can see that Valverde is getting hit much more frequently as well. In 2007, hitters made contact with 69.3% of his pitches. That steadily rose as well until last year, when it hit 84.1%. He doesn’t have the swing-and-miss stuff anymore, despite what some of his recent save totals might tell you.
While it may seem like a closer coming of a 35-save season is a no-brainer at first glance for a few million, there is real risk involved with Valverde, especially on a major league contract.