Through 2011, Jose Valverde has compiled 242 career saves. He has led the league in saves on three occasions for different teams. Valverde enjoyed his best overall year at age 33 in 2011. For the season, he converted all 49 opportunities, won the MLB Delivery Man of the Year, and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting.
Jose Valverde signed with Detroit as a free agent in January 2010 after seven years in the National League. He led the league in saves with Arizona in 2007 and Houston in 2008. The Astros failed to resign him following the 2009 season and Detroit scooped him up. In his first season with the Tigers, Valverde posted respectable numbers. He went 2-4 with 26 saves and a 3.00 ERA.
Valverde, or Papa Grande, entered 2011 as the Tigers closer in his contract year. The “Big Potato” proved unstoppable in save situations. He finished with 49 saves in 49 opportunities. In the postseason, he converted all three save chances. Only Eric Gagne’s 55-for-55 in 2003 was better. In these situations, Valverde allowed 26 hits in 49 innings and just 3 earned runs while striking out 50. Detroit finished 77-0 when leading after seven and 83-0 with the lead after eight.
Papa Grande did not perform as well in non-save situations. In these chances, he allowed 15 earned runs in 23.1 innings. As a result of his non-save struggles, Valverde finished with a 2.24 ERA, 34 walks, 69 strikeouts, and a 1.189 WHIP in 72.1 innings. He led the league in games, games finished, and saves. Had he pitched better in non-save situations, he would have finished higher than fifth in the Cy Young voting.
The Tiger pitcher may not have been a dominant closer, but he was the most effective. For his efforts, All Star manager Ron Washington chose Papa Grande to close for the American League in the All Star Game. He achieved other honors in 2011 as well. On May 8, he recorded his 200th career save. Four months later, Valverde set the Tiger single season save record when he passed Todd Jones after recording his 43rd. Although he did not win the Cy Young, Valverde secured 2011 MLB Delivery Man of the Year Award.
His regular season success, and struggles, continued into the postseason. Valverde saved two games in the ALDS against New York and one game in the ALCS match up with Texas. Although Valverde converted all three postseason save opportunities, he allowed six runs in 7.1 innings against the Yankees and Rangers. Four of the runs came on Nelson Cruz’s walk off grand slam in the pivotal Game 4 of the ALCS.
Although the Tiger season ended in a loud ALCS thud, they managed to win their first division title since 1987. Following the postseason, Detroit exercised Valverde’s option for 2012. It was an easy decision and affords the closer an opportunity to become the fifth Tiger with 100 saves. Jose Valverde converted all 52 save opportunities, won Delivery Man of the Year, and finished fifth in the Cy Young balloting. His 2011 represents one of the greatest closer seasons in history and will be difficult to top in 2012.