2013 Phillies Report Card: Raul Valdes
Yesterday, Raul Valdes, after 42 relief appearances and 2 spot starts for the Phillies, was claimed off of waivers by the Houston Astros.
It’s hard to talk about the Phillies bullpen at all lately, mostly because of that sour bile-y substance that wells up in one’s esophagus — that’s not just me, right? 2012 could have been the year that the parade of young arms popping on and off the active roster in previous seasons assembled itself into a cohesive and effective bullpen. That didn’t come to pass. The bullpen was slightly above average in terms of runs allowed per game, but failed from a situational perspective, ranking near the bottom of the MLB in Win Probability Added and Inherited Runners Scored. In 2013, things only got worse; the pen, by most of the relevant metrics, was near the bottom of the league.
It was not entirely their fault. Charlie Manuel‘s, er, inflexible bullpen management and some tough breaks played their parts. But over the course of 324 games, one would reasonably expect to find some arrangement of Antonio Bastardo, Michael Schwimer, Jeremy Horst, Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, B.J. Rosenberg, David Herndon, Phillippe Aumont, Michael Stutes, Justin DeFratus, J.C. Ramirez, Valdes, and others, that could be more serviceable. Putting together relievers is a gamble for any team. With those inexpensive arms as the table cards, and Jonathan Papelbon and Mike Adams in hand, one would have hoped to put up a better fight for the pot. Oh well.
It’s a shame that the Phillies were not competitive in 2012, the season that saw the 31 most effective of Valdes’ 136.2 Major League innings. The opportunity to cap that season off with a playoff appearance would have been a nice bow on the total package for a guy that has gone through as much as Valdes has just to be here at all. He successfully defected from his native Cuba in 2003, at age 25, after five previous failed attempts. He then bounced between 9 different affiliates of the Cubs and Mets before finally cracking the show in 2010. As hard as he grinds away, though, his middling-at-best fastball/slider approach means he’ll always be one of the table cards — one of the waiver pickups or last minute call-ups that you hope to plug in and get lucky.
2013 was a Major League low point for Valdes. He limited the free passes and missed bats effectively, but, when he didn’t miss the bats, the ball went a long way in the other direction. Valdes has never been able to keep the ball on the ground, and in 2013 his fly balls left the yard at a 14% rate. The ERA retrodictors are all pretty forgiving of him, particularly SIERA (3.10) and xFIP (3.74). This fact, along with The Inherent Fickleness of Every Reliever (TIFER), might lead you to conclude that he was the victim of some tough fortune. To some extent he almost certainly was; he only threw 35 innings, and it’s hard to imagine he was truly as bad as his 198 ERA-.
Even considering this, though, I think it’s fair to say, for all the 136.2 Major League innings that we have to go on, that Raul Valdes is simply not a very good pitcher. A fastball, a slider, and a token change up can work for a reliever, but not configured as they are for Valdes. The slider has its moments, and is primarily responsible for the very good strikeout rates he has maintained over four seasons. But his fastball, sitting 87-88 miles per hour and without much in the way of movement, is just not good enough to anchor his approach, or to fall back on when the hitters are lifting his slider. He doesn’t have the stuff to blow by hitters, and he doesn’t have the diversity in repertoire to toy with them. At age 35, it’s just unlikely that he’ll evolve that extra edge. When you get a season like 2012 from Raul Valdes, you cash out your chips and call it a win. That will be the tack of Houston and any future organization he lands with. It’s rough, because it’s not for lack of his desire, but that’s baseball. The talent pyramid is bottom-heavy and unforgiving.
Sorry Raul, I had to fail you. F. Grades from the rest of the Crashburn staff:
Credit as always to the invaluable Brooks Baseball and ESPN Stats & Info.