It’s still early, but Phillips Valdez’s second season with the Red Sox is off to a strong start.
Coming into the week, the lanky right-hander has posted a 2.25 ERA and .258 OPS against to go along with five strikeouts and two walks through his first six appearances and eight innings pitched of the year.
Five of the six outings Valdez has made this month have been scoreless ones, with the only blip thus far coming when he surrendered two runs against the Orioles on April 11.
Besides that, the 29-year-old has just about been perfect, and he showed how valuable he can be to Boston’s bullpen in Sunday’s doubleheader against the White Sox at Fenway Park.
In Game 1 of the twin bill, Valdez worked two scoreless frames of relief while striking out two of the six hitters he faced in the sixth and seventh innings — his second multi-inning relief appearance of the season already.
A few hours later, the Dominican native was once again called into action to work the top half of the seventh of Game 2.
Again, Valdez needed all of 15 pitches — 10 of which were strikes — to retire Chicago’s Nos. 3, 4, and 5 hitters (Yoan Moncada, Jose Abreu, Yermin Mercedes) in order, which is no simple task.
The Red Sox may have dropped both games of their doubleheader against the White Sox on Sunday, but Valdez proved to be effective nonetheless.
“If you have an MVP of a doubleheader that you got swept, it was Phillips Valdez,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said during his pregame media availability Monday morning. “He was the MVP of the day yesterday. For him to pitch in both games and save the bullpen, it was huge for us.”
Per Baseball Savant, Valdez’s early success this year goes beyond statistics like ERA and WHIP.
The 6-foot-3, 173 pound hurler is currently in the 96th percentile in regards to average exit velocity, the 89th percentile in regards to max exit velocity, the 99th percentile in regards to hard-hit percentage, the 97th percentile in regards to expected weighted on-base average, the 97th percentile in regards to expected ERA, the 93rd percentile in regards to expected batting average, the 97th percentile in regards to expected slugging percentage, and the 83rd percentile in regards to barrel percentage.
To put it simply, Valdez has done a quality job of limiting hard contact throughout the first month of the 2021 campaign by effectively utilizing his pitch mix, which consists of a changeup, a slider, and a sinker.
The fact that he has emerged as such a solid relief option is somewhat surprising considering that he was A. claimed off waivers last February and B. was not a lock to make Boston’s Opening Day roster this year after struggling in spring training.
Since making his Red Sox debut last July — five months after being claimed off waivers from the Mariners, Valdez owns a 3.05 ERA and 4.01 FIP across 30 appearances spanning 38 1/3 innings of work at the big-league level.
If Valdez continues to impress out of the Sox bullpen moving forward, it should be interesting to see if there is any change in the way Cora uses him, with the possibility of being deployed in higher leverage situations always an option.
(Picture of Phillips Valdez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)