The Tiger most likely to disappoint us in 2012

In 2011, Tiger closer Jose Valverde was perfect, converting 49 saves in 49 chances in the regular season.

This is the time of year when hope springs eternal and all that crap. So, forgive me for bringing us back to reality here just a few short days into spring training.

There are Tigers players who will struggle in 2012, it’s bound to be. It’s impossible to predict who they will be exactly, but one thing is for sure, there’s one Tiger who’ll disappoint us the most, and I’ve identified him for you.

There’s just no way that Jose Valverde will be able to do in 2012 what he did in 2011. The baseball gods won’t allow it.

Baseball is the great humbling game. The very best hitters fail seven out of 10 times. The greatest pitchers get battered around a few times each season, and closers blow saves.

Unless you were “Papa Grande” in 2011.

The Flamboyant One was perfect – 49 for 49 in save chances during the regular season. In the post-season he converted three more saves without a miscue. It was one of the most impressive performances by a closer in baseball history. Not even Mariano Rivera, the Yankee closer who’ll be welcomed into Cooperstown with proclamation when he finally hangs up his spikes, has ever been so perfect.

But we should be practical about it: Valverde will stumble in 2012. There were signs of it toward the end of last season, when he had bumpy saves here and there. Jim Leyland asked a lot of him: Valverde worked in 75 games, often back-to-back or three days in a row. He’ll turn 34 in March, and his arm shouldn’t be expected to handle that much work. Even though he pitches relatively few innings (about one per outing), Valverde throws a lot of pitches in the bullpen and the demand of being available 4-5 times per week is tough on his not-so-sculpted body. Plus, since the Tigers are expected to win a lot of games, Valverde will have lots of games to close out.

Don’t be surprised if Papa Grande blows a save here and there in 2012, or even suffers an extended stretch of misery. It’s the nature of the closer job (even Rivera has stunk at times). In fact, because closers are on the mound for clutch situations late in games, their performance is often feast or famine. In 2011, it was all feast for Valverde, but in 2012, expect famine here and there.

That doesn’t mean Valverde will lose his job at the end of games (though job security for closers is notoriously shaky), it just means he’ll be human in 2012, and being that fans are fickle, he’ll hear some boos.

The Tigers are lucky to have Papa Grande, he’s one of the best at what he does. But his job doesn’t lend itself to perfection, and in 2012, Tiger fans shouldn’t expect it.

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