Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 5/1/12

Should the Detroit Tigers consider swapping out the closer duties and hand the 9th inning keys to Joaquin Benoit? We’ve all that about it, but would it be the right move?

Jose Valverde went 49 for 49 in save opportunities last year, albeit in consistently dramatic fashion. But 49 for 49 is flat out epic and must be respected. Regardless, should Benoit get a crack at the job? Let’s take a look.

Current stats, though meaning very little right now, slightly favor Benoit. He has a 3.86 ERA but a shockingly high 2.25 WHIP thanks to 9 walks in 9.1 innings of work. Valverde is sporting a 5.59 ERA and an equally ugly 1.86 WHIP to go along with 4 saves in 5 chances.

Jose Valverde

The main problem with Valverde, at least in the minds of Tiger fans, is that when he takes the mound the worst case scenario is usually expected. He often walks the first batter, coughs up any insurance run cushion he may have, and tightropes his way to an eventual save.

Whether this is fair or not is another matter. After all, he almost always gets the job done and saves the game for the Tigers. Last year was clearly a special year for him, earning the Tigers’ faith and an executed final option year on his contract.

Right now, I’m just not sure that I’d trust this version of Jose Valverde to close meaningful games for the Tigers come September and October.

He’s been an extremely consistent reliever during his time in the big leagues. His career ERA is 3.07. 2010 was his first year as a Tiger and his ERA was 3.00. Last year it was 2.24. This year he is struggling and has fans calling for more split-fingered fastballs, or another pitcher altogether.

Interestingly, he threw the splitter more than his fastball in 2010, his first year with the Tigers. He threw 47.5% fastballs and 52.5% splitters that season. During the spring of 2011 he got some advice that made him drastically reduce the amount of splitters he throws (20.1% in 2011 and 18.8% so far in 2012). 2011 should quickly remind us that he can pitch quite effectively by throwing 4 out of every 5 pitches as straight fastballs.

The bottom line is it has little to do with pitch selection and everything to do with the same ailment that plagues much of the Tigers’ pitching staff – walks. Valverde’s control has worsened drastically since joining the Tigers in 2010.

In his first 7 seasons in the big leagues, the Big Potato averaged just 22 walks/season. He allowed 32 and 34 free passes in 2010 and 2011 respectively, setting career-highs each season. This year he is on pace for about 45 walks, which is quite simply unacceptable. This brings us back to Benoit.

Since reclaiming his career in 2010 with the Rays he has been a master of command. He walked just 11 hitters in all of 2010, which was one of the Tigers’ main determining factors in locking him down for 3 years that offseason. Benoit rewarded their faith by allowing just 17 walks in 2011 with the Tigers. So what gives? Why the 9 walks already in 2012?

Interestingly enough it appears as though Benoit has done the opposite of Valverde, and has begun to abandon his mid 90’s fastball. He threw it 65% of the time in 2010 and 61.9% in 2011. 2012 has witnessed just 48.6% fastballs from the slow-paced reliever. His slider % is up 5.3% and his changeups 8.1% from a year ago.

My feeling is that this will self correct and Benoit will get back to throwing darts with his fastball and resume his identity as a reliable 8th inning guy.

The worst part is that this conversation begins and ends with Valverde and Benoit. Nobody else on the Tigers’ roster profiles as a closer candidate. The same holds true for the high minors as well.

Whether you like it or not, the Tigers are stuck with Valverde in the 9th inning. He has shown that he can get where he’s supposed to go in that role more often than not despite the wobbly tires. To me, he is a closer or bust. Handing him the ball in the 8th inning seems like an idea that is bound for failure.

Joaquin Benoit is signed through 2013 and Valverde is not. Don’t be surprised if Benoit is the closer next year, but get used to Valverde the rest of this season. No matter who is throwing the pitches in the 9th inning, they’d be best served to cut down on the walks. Benoit should go back to pouring in fastballs while Valverde just needs to quirk his way through it, because he seems to be getting further removed from his ability to control the baseball with each passing season.

In Valverde We Trust?

Follow me on Twitter @isportsJoe or subscribe to our Detroit Tigers Feed

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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