José Rafael Valverde
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4", Weight 254 lb.
During the course of the 2009 season, it was revealed that pitcher José Valverde was a year and a half older than previously thought.
Valverde has had success as a closer for three different teams. He saved 47 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007, leading the National League that season, then in 2008 had 44 saves for the Houston Astros, once again leading the league. After a couple of 20+-save seasons, one with the Astros in 2009, and a second for the Detroit Tigers in 2010, he had probably his best year for the Tigers in 2011. When he made the 500th appearance of his career on August 27th, he picked up the save against the Minnesota Twins to confirm Justin Verlander as the major leagues' first 20-game winner of the year. That gave him a perfect 39 saves in 39 opportunities on the year, a league-leading total - and combined with a successful save in his last opportunity the previous season, 40 consecutive converted save, tying Dennis Eckersley for the second-longest such streak in American League history. He picked up his 40th save of the year against the Kansas City Royals, becoming only the second pitcher in team history to reach the mark, after Todd Jones. He was named to the All-Star team that season for the third time in his career, having previously been part of the National League squad in 2007 and pitching for the junior circuit in 2010. He finished the season with a perfect record of 49 saves in 49 opportunities, leading the league in both saves and games pitched, then saved two more games as the Tigers upset the New York Yankees in the Division Series, although they did not come by easily. In the ALCS against the Texas Rangers, he was charged with a loss in Game Four, when he gave up 4 runs in the 11th inning on Nelson Cruz's grand slam. He won the Rolaids Relief Award for the second time, having been so honored with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.
In 2012, Valverde did not show the dominance that had characterized his preceding season, but he still led the AL with 67 games finished and recorded 35 saves. However, his ERA jumped to 3.78 and his strikeouts fell to 48 in 69 innings. Manager Jim Leyland stuck with him even as began to show signs of fatigue late in the season, with the velocity on his fastball being noticeably down. He had a couple of meltdowns in the postseason, the most dramatic coming in Game 1 of the ALCS. He entered the bottom of the 9th against the Yankees with a 4 - 0 lead, but he proceeded to let New York tie the game, with a homer by Raul Ibanez providing the key blow. Even though the Tigers managed to win the game in the 12th inning, Leyland was severely criticized for not removing him from the game before he had proceeded to blow the seemingly safe four-run lead.
Valverde was not re-signed by the Tigers following his late season meltdown, and after no other team showed interest in taking him on, he hoped to attract interest by pitching for the Dominican Republic national team in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. However, that plan was derailed as well when he bowed out of the tournament one day before it was about to start, citing only "a personal issue". On April 4, 2013, however, he re-signed with the Tigers but with only a minor league contract. The Tigers' back-up plans in his absence - promoting inexperienced hard thrower Bruce Rondon from the minors, and using a closer-by-committee led by Phil Coke - had both failed, leaving the Tigers with a large hole. However, Valverde first had to report to the Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers to prove he was back in shape, and there was no guarantee he would have his old job back even if he proved fit. But he pitched so well that by April 23rd, the Tigers had not only signed him to a new major league contract, but had also announced that he would be their first choice to close games. In his return to the big leagues on April 24th, he pitched a perfect 9th inning to pick up the save in a 7-5 win over the Kansas City Royals. He threw 18 pitches - all of them fastballs: "I'd like to see one of you throw a splitter on a day like this", he said jokingly, referring to the chilly 39-degree weather that evening. He pitched quite well at first, recording 6 saves out of 7 opportunities with an 0.75 ERA in his first 12 games. He then gave up 4 runs in two-thirds of an inning to blow a save against the Baltimore Orioles on May 31st, starting a tailspin. He pushed his save total to 9, but saw his ERA rise to 5.59. On June 20th, manager Leyland stated that Joaquin Benoit would now be his closer, and the next day, José was designated for assignment with the hope he would agree to report to the AAA Toledo Mud Hens to work out his problems. He did clear waivers and agreed to the assignment to Toledo but alas was unable to show the Tigers that he could still help them. He was handed his unconditional release on August 7th, although he had been 7 for 7 in save opportunities for the Mud Hens; more characteristic was that in piling up the saves, he had allowed 14 runs, 6 walks and 5 runs in 11 innings, nothing to convince the Tigers' brass that he could still be of help, especially with Benoit pitching well in Detroit.
A veritable cat with nine lives - albeit a big one - Valverde managed to again find a job in 2014, in spite of his recent struggles. Invited to spring training by the New York Mets, not only did he earn a spot on the opening day roster, he was penciled in for a key role by manager Terry Collins: back-up closer, spelling Bobby Parnell, who was coming off an injury and whose appearances needed to be monitored closely. He lasted less than two months in the Mets' bullpen, however, being released on May 26th. His record stood at 1-1, 5.66 in 21 games with 2 saves in 4 opportunities, and he had had a series of poor performances before the Mets decided to cut him loose. He was still hoping to keep on pitching in 2015, but only did so in the minors after being released at the end of spring training by the San Diego Padres, and then hooking up for three months with the Washington Nationals organization. He did not do badly, with 10 saves and a 2.39 ERA in 27 games for the Syracuse Chiefs, but he was released on July 22nd, then on August 14th, he was handed an 80-game suspension by Major League Baseball for testing positive for the steroid Stanozolol, the same substance which had upended former Mets teammate Jenrry Mejia's season.
Valverde has an unusual motion when pitching from the stretch, as he appears to come to a set position twice in the course of pitching. He first sets his hands at waist level, then begins a circular motion with his arms that brings him to a second set position above the letters, after which he starts his motion towards home plate. As he does this on every pitch, umpires do not consider that it constitutes a balk; only the second pause is considered his set position.
- 3-time All-Star (2007, 2010 & 2011)
- NL Reliever of the Year Award Winner (2007)
- 2-time Rolaids Relief Award Winner (2007/NL & 2011/AL)
- AL Games Pitched Leader (2011)
- 3-time League Saves Leader (2007/NL, 2008/NL & 2011/AL)
- 30 Saves Seasons: 4 (2007, 2008, 2011 & 2012)
- 40 Saves Seasons: 3 (2007, 2008 & 2011)