Game 2012.153: Royals at Tigers

80-72, 2nd place, 1 game behind CWS, E# 10.

I haven’t yet figured out how to insert fancy charts into the Word Press editor yet, but imagine there’s a graph below entitled “Jose Valverde’s Career.” The Y axis (vertical) would go from “Bad” at the bottom to “Good” at the top. The X axis (horizontal) would say “Back Then” on the left and go to “Now” on the right. And then there would be an arrow diving from the top left of the chart towards the bottom right. With gusto.

It’s pretty easy to look at Valverde’s recent performance and note that he’s posting a 7.71 ERA over his last 10 outings, having allowed at least 1 ER in 6 of those 10 appearances. He’s been drilled for 5 ER in his last 2 1/3, and mercifully, in one of those, the game ended before he could invite anyone else onto the base paths. So what’s the reason?

As I mentioned last night and a few weeks ago, I think the culprit is his velocity, or lack thereof. According to FanGraphs, his fastball now sits at 93-94, instead of 94-96, and batters are jumping on it. As a result, the swings and misses are down (contact on 83.3% of swings, up from 76.9% last year) which means more balls in play and translates into hits at an alarming rate with our defense. The reduced velocity has also manifested itself in a woeful 6.47 K/9, which is over 3.5 off of his career average.

Moreover, he’s lost a good amount of movement on his fastball, which supports the increased contact. Unless he can develop another pitch, these are the sort of problems that can derail a closer’s career (or a borderline team’s playoff hopes).

Now, the counter to this argument is that is June, July and August were phenomenal. But note that his K rate for those three months was only around 6, and he walked as many in June as he struck out (4). I think that was just a little bit of randomness working itself out over the long season.

Valverde is not as bad as he’s been over the past few outings, but he’s no longer the same guy who K’d ARod to close out the ALDS last year.

(Note – not trying to ignore the team’s defensive woes, inability to make seemingly routine baseball plays and lineup holes. These are all factors. Just wanted to share a few thoughts on Big Potato.)

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The Tigers start an extended series with the Royals tonight which includes a makeup from an April 30th rainout. These will be the last 4 regular season games at Comerica this season. Then it’s off to Minnesota and KC to wrap things up.

It’s hard to get excited about a 4 game set with KC when on the heels of yesterday’s Twins sweep, but this division is wide open. And while the eventual WS Champion Cardinals sat 2.5 games out at this point in time last year, there are questions as to whether the Tigers have the right fire in the locker room.

So I’m going to pull the Spring Training line – had we known in March that the Tigers would be 1 game out, with 10 games remaining against teams that were a combined 37 games under .500, I think we’d all be okay with it, and pretty damn excited about these last 10 games.

Let’s Go Tigers!

Tigers are 7-4 against the Royals this year, 4-1 at Comerica. I feel a sweep.

1. Jackson, CF
2. Berry, LF
3. Cabrera, 3B
4. Fielder, 1B
5. Young, DH
6. Dirks, RF
7. Peralta, SS
8.  Avila, C
9. Infante, 2B