Raul Valdes Now An Important Part of Phillies Bullpen
The Phillies bullpen has been a source of complete insanity over the past three months. Whether it’s been Jonathan Papelbon being too clutch, the young guys getting injured (David Herndon and Michael Stutes), or Chad Qualls knocking over a vat of gasoline in every appearance, it has been very stressful in the late innings. One reliever, however, has been bucking the trend for most of the last two months: 34-year-old journeyman lefty Raul Valdes.
Valdes agreed to a Minor League contract with the Phillies back in November, spending April and the first half of May with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In 27 innings, he posted a 3.00 ERA with 36 strikeouts and two walks. As the Phillies’ bullpen surrendered to dysfunction, the Phillies promoted Valdes along with fellow lefty Jake Diekman in an attempt to bring some calmness back into the late innings.
Given his age, previous Major League experience (70.2 innings), and lack of success (4.58 ERA), the expectations weren’t high for Valdes. He was simply the latest exterminator asked to poke a hornet’s nest with a stick. The results, though, were surprising. In his first stint with the Phillies between May 16 and June 7, Valdes allowed only three runs (all in one appearance) in 12.2 innings while striking out 13 and walking one. He was demoted to make room for right-handed reliever B.J. Rosenberg, but was quickly brought back, making his next appearance on June 23 against the Tampa Bay Rays. In two frames, Valdes struck out four, walked none, and allowed only one hit.
Valdes has struck out at least one batter in 10 of 12 appearances, including five multi-strikeout outings. He has dominated right-handed hitters (.339 OPS) more than lefties (.524), using a fastball-slider combination with the occasional change-up. His fastball location charts are quite funny and help explain why he has had success thus far:
Valdes has been effective enough among an under-performing bunch and is deserving of being trusted in more important situations. Valdes has only entered a game to face a situation with a leverage index of 1.00 or greater three times. He could share the eighth-inning role with Antonio Bastardo, who has been under a heavy workload in June, throwing 20 or more pitches in seven of nine appearances with a 6.75 ERA.
After spending time with the Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Yankees, it appears that Valdes is finally seeing the success he envisioned when he signed as an amateur free agent out of Cuba in 2004. For the Phillies, he couldn’t have picked a better time to be the rock among an avalanche of failure. Now, we simply hope that the Phillies’ 4.48 bullpen ERA isn’t contagious.