It wasn’t too hard to figure out who was going to win MLB’s Delivery Man of the Year award this season since Detroit Tigers’ reliever Jose Valverde was perfect with 49 saves in 49 opportunities. Valverde is just the second Tiger to be honored as the league’s best relief pitcher. Other pitchers who earned votes were John Axford (Milwaukee), Craig Kimbrel (Atlanta) and Joel Hanrahan (Pittsburgh).
Oddly enough, Valverde never won any of the six monthly Delivery Man of the Month awards during the regular season. It seemed there was always somebody a step ahead of him on a monthly basis. But when you look at the numbers for the whole season, Valverde’s pitching performance stands out as is one of the best in MLB history.
Along with the 49 saves, Valverde actually had a losing record of 2-4. But his ERA was an excellent 2.24 ERA and in 72 1/3 inning he only allowed 52. He struck out 69 batters and walked 34. Opposing batters just managed to hit .198 against Valverde. The numbers were even more astounding when he was pitching in save situations. He only allowed three runs on 26 hits in 49 innings and struck out 50 while walking just 20. Two of the three runs he gave up were scored on home runs.
There has been only one other pitcher who saved more games without blowing one and that was Eric Gagne of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Gagne saved 50 games out of 50 back in 2003 and saved 84 in a row when the season before and after were taken into account.
Valverde’s 49 straight saves easily bettered the Tigers’ former record of 32 which was set by Guillermo Hernandez back in 1984. Valverde also beat the franchise record for saves in a season, which was set back in 2000 when Todd Jones saved 42 games.
Jones paid tribute to Valverde by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch during game four of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees at Comerica Park. Jones said the only similarity between the two is that they’re both right handed. He said Valverde is a fierce competitor and had an amazing season. He added that his Tigers teammates were happy for him since he well liked in the clubhouse.
Valverde isn’t exactly loved by everybody though as his style and unique save celebrations often get on the nerve of opposing teams. He’ll often dance around the pitchers’ mound or cross his arms in celebration. He’s also known to be quite superstitious. However, Valverde said he doesn’t really know what he’s doing after he earns another save on the mound. He said he’s just focused on doing his job and not really paying attention to anything else.
He also said baseball’s a team game and he’s glad his performance helped the Tigers win a division title for the first time since 1987. He feels it’s nice to be honored for individual performances, but said the ultimate goal is to win the World Series as a team.