It’s obvious Jim Leyland is going to stick to his formula. He wants the Detroit Tigers‘ relief pitchers to know their roles. He wants them to be comfortable knowing they have a specific job, and they don’t have to guess when they’re going to be put into a game.
That’s fine, but it’s time he reassesses who belongs where.
Joaquin Benoit is putting up some solid numbers as the Tigers’ set-up man this season, and it’s time for him to take over for Jose Valverde as the team’s closer. Some might argue if he’s doing so well, why change his role? But it has more to do with what Valverde can’t do than what Benoit can.
Valverde can be wildly inconsistent. He doesn’t always attack the strike zone, and often he dances around it. His current first-pitch strike percentage is 54.7 percent. Valverde scares Tigers’ fans for a reason: you never know what you’re going to get with him. It’s all or nothing, and he doesn’t seem to have the mental strength to pull himself out of tough situations. He’s been effective when he’s on, but if he’s not he doesn’t stand a chance.
He doesn’t have the type of arsenal that makes it easy to get back into favorable counts after falling behind. When hitters know he has to throw a strike they can expect a straight fastball in or around their wheelhouse that will range anywhere from 91-96 mph. On good days, the fastball has late life. On bad ones, it floats through the air like a jun ebug waiting to be tattooed into the sky.
Valverde can’t hold a runner. The instant he allows someone to reach base, he can expect the fastest pinch-runner a team has to take over, and a walk or single suddenly turns into a runner in scoring position.
Benoit, on the other hand, has been attacking the strike zone consistently and has a much more manageable 60 percent first-pitch strike rate. He has a deeper arsenal and the ability to catch up if he falls behind in counts. He can throw pitches other than fastballs for strikes, which keeps hitters guessing. He doesn’t appear to be phased when he allows someone to reach base, remaining confident and calm.
As a team with higher expectations than most, the Tigers can’t afford to take that inconsistency with them into the postseason. Losses on that stage have much greater implications than ones in June do. Joaquin Benoit deserves to close, and “Papa Grande” deserves his pension.