Last year, Jose Valverde lost confidence in his splitter towards the end of the season. By the end of the year, he was throwing mostly 4-seam fastballs, which resulted in a 5.02 ERA and 1.465 WHIP in September/October during the regular season (according to Pitch f/x, Valverde threw 236 pitches in that time from, 197 were 4-seam fastballs, 83.5% and 39 were splitters, 16.5%). In the playoffs it got worse, 30.38 ERA, 4.50 WHIP in 2 2/3 IP and he was eventually replaced by Phil Coke for the closer's role. No one was willing to sign Valverde in the off-season because of that performance and lack of an effective secondary pitch. The Tigers eventually signed him at the end of Spring Training to a minor league deal after realizing Bruce Rondon wasn't quite ready. After 3 games in Lakeland, he's back in the Major Leagues and was immediately named the closer by Jim Leyland , who likes to have specialized roles for his relief pitchers.
Valverde has pitched in 3 games and retired all 9 hitters he's faced, notching 2 saves. Here's a game-by-game breakdown:
Result: Fly out, ground out, fly out, save #1.
Process: Valverde threw a total of 18 pitches,
all of them were 4-seam fastballs. The
weather was chilly, so maybe he couldn’t get a good grip on the splitter. Both fly balls were hit to the warning track
that might have been homers in other parks.
Valverde looked shaky in his first appearance.
Result: Fly out, strikeout, strikeout, save
Process: Valverde threw 14 pitches, 12 were
4-seam fastballs and 2 were splitters.
Both splitters were in the same AB to Evan Gattis. His fastball was most impressive, though,
reaching 95 MHP, something he didn’t do often in 2012.
Result: Lineout, groundout, groundout.
Process: Only 6 pitches in this non-save
situation, all 4-seam fastballs as he cleaned up the mess started by Al
Alburquerque. He pitched out of the
stretch for the first time in this appearance.
samples and it’s still early. Valverde
has thrown a total of 38 pitches in his three appearances; 36 were 4-seam
fastballs (94.7%) and only 2 were splitters (5.3%). Valverde hasn't shown much of anything different so far
this year that made him struggle last year, except maybe a few MPH on his
fastball in one appearance. His windup has changed slightly as he's not as pronounced when he does the twist before he pitches. The results
have been much better, though. I just
wonder how much longer he can keep it up as many people think the key to his success is the rejuvenation of an effective splitter.