What Happened to the Big Potato?

This interesting tidbit was included in Tim Dierkes’s assessment of Jose Valverde in his assessment of the top 50 free agents back for MLB Trade Rumors back in October:

Valverde still holds cache with MLB executives, who insisted I should not omit Valverde from my top 50 despite his rough year.

The Big Potato indeed.

The Big Potato indeed.

Still, Papa Grande will be 35 in 2013. We’ve seen his SwStr% decline in four straight years, his GB% decline two years in a row, his K% decline for six(!) straight years, and the velocity of his four-seamer and his splitter (ostensibly his only two pitches) decline in each of the last three seasons. His 2012 K% was his worst ever, in fact, his GB% the lowest since his rookie year in 2003.

Those aren’t encouraging trends, of course, but before 2012, he was still a very effective pitcher. Between 2007 and 2011 he never posted an ERA higher than 3.38, nor a FIP- higher than 89. Hell, in 2012 he had a 3.78 ERA and a FIP- of 86. But in 2012, his xFIP was 5.01 and his SIERA ballooned to 4.42, the first time in his entire career that it was over 4. What kept his ERA and FIP afloat were career lows in HR/9 and HR/FB — which explains why his xFIP and SIERA are much higher than his FIP — and he gave up fly balls at a higher rate in 2012 than he had since 2009.

I’ve already mentioned the loss of velocity on both of his pitches, but perhaps even more telling is the loss of movement on his splitter.

His splitter, strangely, has always had very little vertical movement, but as you can see, it used to have significant “arm-side run.” I’m not sure that really explains the problems that Papa came to have, though, considering that the PITCHfx values at FanGraphs indicate that the splitter induced better results than they had in 2011. On the contrary, it was his fastball value that took a hit in 2012. So really, I’m stumped.

You could look at his release points, which are sort of erratic from year to year, but were the lowest and widest (i.e. the side-armiest) that they’d been in many years. Or you could blame it on velocity that’s inching ever downward.

Valverde Release Points

Any which way, though, things don’t look good for the Big Potato, and I wouldn’t touch him as a free agent if I was most teams — especially if he’s still brandishing that “proven closer” tag.

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