The law of averages might catch up to Jose Valverde soon. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
A lot of fans were probably aghast when the Tigers made the decision to sign Jose Valverde to a speculative contract earlier this year. With the way his time in Detroit seemingly ended last October — blown saves and playoff implosions — it was easy to see their point.
A glance at early returns in this season gives the appearance the decision has turned out fine so far, yet a deeper look shows there may be storm clouds on the horizon.
Valverde has four saves in five chances this season. His strikeout rate has jumped from 16 percent of plate appearances in 2012 to 24 percent in 2013, but he's walking three batters for every two he walked before.
Of additional concern is our old friend BABIP — batting average on balls in play.
Valverde during his first three seasons in Detroit had a BABIP of .250, meaning batters reached base safely once for every four opportunities fielders had to create an out.
This season that figure is .056 — a rate closer to one in 20. Did Valverde do something different to get batters to send the ball right to his fielders? Did the Tigers get that much better in the field?
Nope and nope. Expect some hits to start to drop, some runners to start to score, and some frustrations to overflow yet again among fans.
More troubling numbers
You can dive deeper into the statistics using PitchFX, which is a video-based pitch-tracking system installed in every ballpark, to find more warning signs about Valverde.
Those who watch baseball coverage on Fox Sports Detroit can think of "FoxTrax" to get a basic idea of what PitchFX does in identifying pitch locations. Viewers enjoy it because it gives instant feedback about the strike zone, giving more fuel to their claims umpires have no clue what the strike zone is supposed to look like.
PitchFX can actually take this a step further by tracking the path and speed of a pitch and using an algorithm to make a best guess about what kind of pitch was thrown.
It can also tell you whether batters are chasing pitches outside the zone and how often they make contact.
Even allowing for a margin of error, it seems clear Valverde isn't fooling people often with what he's offering.
Batters have swung at nearly 18 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, according to PitchFX plate discipline data at FanGraphs.com. At the peak of his career, they chased pitches at nearly twice that rate.
For pitches inside the strike zone, batters have offered more than 65 percent of the time, and made contact at a stunning 93-percent rate. Valverde is both worse than the MLB average and at or near career worsts in all those figures.
The big theme when discussing Valverde is pitch selection. Known for his splitter in the past, Valverde has not shown it much this season.
He has said in interviews that too much has been made about that pitch and that it's difficult to throw in the colder weather in which Detroit has played.
Valverde has also referred to relying on his sinker, too. To be fair, batters have put the ball on the ground against him at a higher rate than at any point since 2010.
But when batters come to the plate knowing what to expect, it's only a matter of time before they start to tee off on him like they did last October.
Valverde seems like an affable figure, and the vitriol many fans targeted at him was unfair given the good seasons he had in Detroit.
If the story is to have a happier ending in 2013, Valverde must be a more dynamic pitcher than he has been so far.