Jose Valverde is an odd creature. And that oddness makes him amusing to some and hated by others. He has the oddest appearance of just about any player in major league history. Pot-bellied, wild-eyed, crazy hair and odd gait all add to the side show of his antics on the mound. When he gets the job done, it always seems a miracle. When he doesn't, the failure is spectacular. For Oakland fans, his latest performance was a godsend. To Tigers' fans, it was a heartbreak.
To sort of sum up the feelings of hate he inspired, one Yankees' fan tweeted last night, "Eat it, Valverde." Oh, he ate it alright. It was a stunning loss and a colossal failure. But let's give some credit to the Oakland batters who got the job done too.
But to get beyond the clown suit and the antics and the emotions involved with "Papa Grande," what the heck happened last night? The answer can be encapsulated with these conclusions: Not enough velocity, too many strikes, BABIP.
Valverde has lost a yard on his fastball. In 2009 and 2010, he averaged 95 MPH on his fastball and 86 on his split-fingered pitch. Last year, those figures went down to 93.9 and 85.7. Well, the split-fingered pitch stayed the same. This year, his fastball was down to 93.4 and the split to 84.1. That two miles per hour make a big difference.
Last night, he threw eleven fastballs and they averaged 91.48 and he threw three splits that averaged 82.17 MPH. So clearly, Valverde did not possess his best stuff. That leads to the question of whether it was just a bad night, or if his health is a factor.
Too many strikes
How can a pitcher throw too many strikes? That does not sound logical. But remember, his velocity was down. Way down. So as such, he needed to pitch much more to the margins and did not. He threw only fourteen total pitches to six batters. Three of his six first pitches were in the heart of the plate. Two others were hittable pitches. The other was out of the strike zone for a ball. See the chart below from Brooks Baseball.
Three of those first pitches were put in play, two of them successfully. The bottom line was that too many of his sub-velocity pitches were too easily in reach of Athletics' batters. Six batters did all that damage on just fourteen pitches.
BABIP is a product of how hard a batter hits the ball and also where the ball is hit. Four of the five balls put in play against Valverde found a safe landing. There is some degree of bad luck in there. But it is just as much true that the balls were hit hard. A BABIP of .800 is a good recipe for losing.
It was a wild victory for the Athletics. Their fans were wild with delight. Tigers' fans were in misery. And those who did not share a stake in either of the teams laughed and pointed at the clown who tripped and fell in front of everyone. The truth is that the clown did not have his best props and it was a spectacular debacle.