JOSE VALVERDE 2007 – Dominican Republic’s best closer yet?
The Arizona Diamondbacks are right in the thick of the National League playoff hunt as we enter the last month of the season, and closer Jose Valverde is a big reason why. Arizona has won more one-run games than any team in baseball, and the 6’4″, 255 lbs. Dominican slammed the door on the opposition in most of them. Five of his countryman have had 40-save seasons before, but the 28-year-old Valverde just might be having a better season than any of them. Let’s take a look.
Jose Jimenez, 2002 Rockies, 41 saves – Jimenez actually pitched better at Coors Field than he did on the road, so you can’t blame his home park for his unimpressive scoreboard stats (2-10, 3.56 ERA). With the save on the line, he had the best control (1.3 walks/9 innings in save situations) of all the Dominicans that saved 40 games. He also had the lowest strikeout rate (4.8/9ip) and was the second easiest to hit of the group. Jimenez blew six save chances, and never entered a game with the tying run already on base. Pitching for a fourth-place team that lost 92 games, his season was not the best ever by a Dominican closer.
Antonio Alfonseca, 2000 Marlins, 45 saves – “El Pulpo (The Octopus)”, with six fingers on each hand, wasn’t particularly impressive. The league batted .291 against him, and his strikeout to walk ratio with the save on the line was a mere 31:18 in 50 innings. He pitched for a sub-.500 club as well, but made good pitches when he had to and only failed to convert four out of 49 save opportunites. Still not the best of the bunch.
Armando Benitez, 2000 Mets, 41 saves; 2001 Mets, 43 saves; 2004 Marlins, 47 saves – Benitez posted a 1.29 ERA in Florida the year he set his career high in saves, versus marks a 2.61 and 3.77 in 2000-2001 for New York. In save situations though, his ERA in the same three seasons was 1.35, 1.51 & 2.22. As a Met, he was simply overpowering in save chances, striking out 12.8/9 ip while allowing 5.1 hits. He was even tougher to hit in Florida, and cut his walks nearly in half, though his strikeouts declined by a third. Benitez stands out from his countrymen because he was used much more with the go-ahead run already at the plate than the others, as he was often asked to enter games before the ninth inning. Mets fans may never forgive him for blowing a save in game one of the 2000 World Series against the Yankees, but Benitez converted 89% of his regular season chances during the regular season, 93% the year after, and 92% in his big year with the Marlins.
Jose Mesa, 2001 Phillies, 42 saves; 2004 Pirates, 43 saves; 2002 Phillies, 45 saves; 1995 Indians, 46 saves – This is why Mesa is the all-time Dominican saves leader. His 1995 season was simply incredible: a 1.13 ERA & just a pair of blown saves within a ten-day span to the Tigers long after Cleveland had run away from the rest of the league. Mesa got his 40th save in the Indians 123rd game that year, earliest among the Dominican closers, and he was a vital piece of Cleveland winning the pennant. Unfortunately, he’ll live in infamy like Benitez for blowing the seventh game of the World Series two years later. Mesa’s other 40-save seasons were good, particularly when you factor in his superior numbers with the save on the line. He did blow nine of them in 2002, but successfully saved 90% of his chances in his four big seasons combined.
Francisco Cordero, 2004 Rangers, 49 saves– Cordero appears to be a lock to ring up his second 40-save campaign in 2007 but, for now, his only season on the list is a doozy. Cordero worked more than one inning for eight of his saves -tops on this list- and had to immediately face the potential tying run in 21 of his saves. Only Benitez’ seasons with the Mets required being brought in to face the possible winning run more often than Cordero. He was even stingier with the home run ball than Mesa, allowing just one in a save situation all year. The only knock is that three of his five blown saves came in September. Cordero lost all of those games, and the Rangers finished three games out in the AL West division.
So, back to Valverde. Despite allowing a homer to Milton Bradley in San Diego last night, he got the job done for his 41st save and moved Arizona back into first place ahead of the Padres with another one-run win. It wouldn’t be unthinkable for Valverde to pick up nine more saves in the D-Backs remaining 27 games to become the first Dominican with a 50-save season. Whether he gets there or not, Valverde may indeed wind up with the greatest season yet by a Dominican closer if he’s the last man standing at the end of October. Arizona fans are certainly hoping so.
By MALCOLM ALLEN
CAREER SAVE LEADERS FROM THE D.R.
active in CAPS (through 8/30/07)
- 321 – JOSE MESA
- 289 – ARMANDO BENITEZ
- 170 – FRANCISCO CORDERO
- 129 – ANTONIO ALFONSECA
- 126 – Mel Rojas
- 110 – Jose Jimenez
- 92 – JOSE VALVERDE
- 83 – Elias Sosa
- 82 – OCTAVIO DOTEL
- 80 – Pedro Borbon (Sr.)