10/05/11 1:39 PM ET
Valverde named MLB Delivery Man of the Year
Tigers' All-Star closer went 49-for-49 in save opportunities
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Statistically, Jose Valverde staked that claim, going 49-for-49 in save opportunities. Now, he has the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Year award to go with it. He becomes just the second Tiger to win the annual honor for the game's most outstanding relief pitcher.
Valverde didn't win any of the six Delivery Man of the Month awards. There was always somebody with a better performance over the short term. For the entire season, however, Valverde's performance ranks among the best of all time.
Only former Dodger Eric Gagne saved more games without blowing an opportunity than Valverde, whose 49 consecutive regular-season saves obliterated Guillermo Hernandez's franchise record of 32 straight saves in 1984. He also toppled Todd Jones as the Tigers' single-season saves king.
Jones set a Tigers record with 42 saves in 2000, earning himself what was then called the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year award. He paid Valverde high honors on Tuesday night by impersonating Valverde's save celebration after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park.
"I think we're both right-handed, but I think after that the comparisons kind of go away," Jones said. "Jose has had an amazing year. He's an amazing closer. People don't really realize how hard 50 out of 50 saves is until you watched me or had a chance to go out there yourself.
"He's a fierce competitor, and I think everybody enjoys him in the clubhouse. Everybody on the team has said nothing but great things. He's just had an amazing year."
Valverde posted a 2-4 record and a 2.24 ERA, allowing 52 hits over 72 1/3 innings with 34 walks and 69 strikeouts. Opponents batted just .198 against him, demonstrating what manager Jim Leyland has called a tremendous ability to keep hitters from centering his pitches.
In just save situations the numbers were even more formidable, with just three runs allowed on 26 hits over 49 innings, in addition to 20 walks and 50 strikeouts. Two of those runs scored on homers.
Those numbers complemented the bottom line -- the saves converted. Though Milwaukee's John Axford, Atlanta rookie Craig Kimbrel and Pittsburgh's Joel Hanrahan received votes, they couldn't beat out Valverde.
The results for a Tigers team that won its first division title since 1987 provided the substance behind a style that has made Valverde one of the game's unique personalities. Time and again, his save celebrations have delighted fans and irked opponents, whether it be a crossing of his arms or a dance around the mound. His superstitions before he throws a pitch have become ingrained in Tigers fans' memories.
"I don't know what I do [after the game]," Valverde said earlier this year. "You guys can tell me what I do, but I don't know. Somebody told me, 'You do something different.' I told him, 'I have no idea what I'm doing.' I swear to God. When I'm pitching, I'm not paying attention to what I'm doing. My mind is on doing my job quick and that's it."
For as much as he celebrates after closing out a game, Valverde has downplayed every individual honor that has come his way this year. His goal, he said, is for the team, not himself.
"I'm not looking at what I do this year," he said. "What I look at all the time is how my team's doing. I have to figure out how to win the game, enjoy the game. My numbers stay over there. If we go to the World Series, we'll remember this for a very long time."