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For how much longer can the Detroit Tigers get by with the kind of inconsistency they've been getting from their closer, Jose Valverde?
Probably not much, and for that reason, it is now time for them to give some serious thought to a change. Perhaps they might have already by now, if not for the forearm troubles that have recently plagued setup man Joaquin Benoit, or the fact that equally inconsistent Octavio Dotel might be the next-most likely alternative.
Simply because Valverde remains "the guy" in Detroit, however, hardly means he can be trusted in fantasy. He's in the midst of a career-worst campaign, littered with warning signs, and hasn't shown much improvement in recent weeks. Let's take a statistical look at what ails Valverde:
• In no other major league season -- and he's in his 10th -- has he registered worse strikeout or walk rates, his 1.13 K's-per-walk ratio when comparing the two categories directly ranking fifth-worst among qualified relievers. In the history of baseball, only five pitchers (for a total of six seasons) managed 30 or more saves in a season with a K's-per-walk ratio of 1.25 or lower, it hasn't been done since 2004 (Shawn Chacon, 35), and it has been done just twice in the past 20 seasons.
• He has afforded opponents a .229 well-hit average, 12th-worst out of 138 qualified relievers (93rd percentile). Compare that to his .149 number in 2011 (87th percentile), .143 in 2010 (92nd percentile) or .145 in 2009 (89th percentile). Opposing hitters are making scads of hard contact against him this year.
• His fastball velocity has declined this season, averaging just 93.6 mph. That's only slightly beneath his 93.8-mph average of 2011, but it's significantly lower than his 95.6-mph average in 2009 or 95.1 mph in 2010.
Valverde's stuff has been clearly lacking this season, and you can be sure that, had Benoit been consistently healthy the past few weeks, he might soon be getting a look in the ninth inning. Heck, Benoit might still get the opportunity in the near future, assuming he strings together a couple positive outings this week fresh off his injury. After all, Benoit did get the call during a one-week period in mid-May, while Valverde was nursing a back injury.
Benoit, to compare, has been successful in many of the areas that Valverde has not: He has a 37 percent miss rate on opponents' swings, fifth-best among qualified relievers; he has a 13.31 K's-per-nine ratio that ranks ninth and a 3.18 K's-per-walk ratio comparable with some of the better years in his career; and he has a .116 well-hit average allowed, which is 20th-best out of 138 qualified relievers.
If you're a Valverde owner or are merely scrounging for saves, Benoit is well worth a look. Among the more prominent closers in the game, Valverde is probably the most likely to be next to lose his job due to declining skills.
Sticking with the week's theme of bold, "it is now time" calls, let's take a look at few other relief pitchers.
"It is now time " to declare Aroldis Chapman the No. 1 relief pitcher in fantasy baseball. This might not seem that bold of a call; Chapman is already the No. 1 relief pitcher on our Player Rater, so it'd merely be a matter of him keeping it up. "Relief Efforts" has sung Chapman's praises many times, so at this stage, let's just sit back and enjoy declaring him the tops at his position. He has a 0.00 ERA in 29 innings (he has allowed only an unearned run, on May 17), has a 16.14 K's-per-nine ratio that ranks second in the majors, a .074 batting average allowed that paces all relievers, and he has shaved more than four walks per nine innings off his 2011 number, his 2.79 walks-per-nine ratio so far a career best. Even expected regression wouldn't lower Chapman's value beneath anyone else on the list; remember that he wasn't closing for the Cincinnati Reds all season, so any hit to his ERA and WHIP will be offset by the gains he makes in saves going forward.
"It is now time " to stash Glen Perkins in AL-only and deep mixed leagues. Perkins was a sneaky late-round selection in these formats during the preseason, his drafting owners clinging to the hope that his superior 2011 numbers to Matt Capps' might mean a potential changing of the ninth-inning guard this year. Things might not have worked out that way in April, but Perkins has picked up the pace of late, tossing 12 consecutive scoreless appearances with a 10.97 K's-per-nine innings ratio and a .121 BAA, to put himself back into contention. Even better: All but three of those outings came in games that, at the time he entered, the Twins led, were tied or trailed by no more than two runs, showing that he's back in the late-inning conversation. Perkins' balanced splits -- he has held right-handers to .204/.267/.315 triple-slash rates -- make him a more than solid closer hopeful, and don't overlook that Capps has two critical flaws: a 5.24 K's-per-nine ratio that puts the onus on his defense to make plays behind him, and a 38.9 percent fly ball rate that is both higher than the major league average for relievers and a bit too high for a pitcher who frequently puts said ball in play. We might yet see a change in Twins closers sometime midsummer, once Capps strings together a few shaky outings, so stash Perkins if your league is deep enough to afford it.
"It is now time " to trade Brett Myers. Although Myers has enjoyed a productive season back in the closer role, ranking 11th among pure relievers, he's in an almost-identical situation to that of Francisco Rodriguez a year ago at this time. Myers' contract has a $10 million option for 2013 that was set to vest at 25 starts this season, and was adjusted to an unannounced number of games finished when the Houston Astros announced his conversion to closer in April. He's on pace for 59 games finished, which would assuredly cause his option to vest, meaning the Astros are practically guaranteed to trade him before the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades. And, as usual, most of the contending teams in need of bullpen help already have closers they'd probably use ahead of him. Granted, Rodriguez was a productive fantasy pitcher in a setup role following his trade to the Milwaukee Brewers; he had a 1.86 ERA and 1.14 WHIP after the deal, but the loss of saves deflated his value in the vast majority of formats. Myers' season might follow the same pattern, and here are the raw facts: There are more Astros games scheduled after the July 31 deadline (58) than before it (49), and that's before accounting for potential postponements or the prospect that Myers is traded sooner. In other words, he might have a good chance of having more holds than saves from today forward.