If not for a Coronavirus setback Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana fans would have gotten to see one of the league’s best pitchers by now. Alas, we live in the worst timeline and César Valdez’s 2020-2021 debut has been delayed by his bout with COVID-19. What better time than now to remind people how dominant Valdez was throughout 2019-2020. Seasons like the one Valdez put together a year ago don’t come along often, especially not for a starter.
The Santo Domingo native started 2019 playing in his, at that point, regular summer league, Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. He came into the season as the ace of a stout Leones de Yucatán staff. Valdez would live up to his billing as an ace. He controlled the league all year to the tune of a 2.26 ERA in 147.2 innings pitched. 122 batters weren’t able to make bat meet ball against Valdez, while only 12 earned a free pass. He carried his dominance into the playoffs where in 28 innings he put up a 2.57 ERA. Included in that run was a complete game shutout in game 5 of the Serie del Rey when his team needed the win to stay alive. As if there was any doubt, Valdez was named the 2019 LMP Pitcher of the Year in a landslide.
After some brief time off Valdez turned his eyes to his winter league team, LIDOM’s Tigres del Licey. All he did for the Tigres was finish the regular season with a 1.11 ERA in 40.2 innings pitched, including 1 complete game. He struck out 40 while only walking four, which helps explain his 0.860 WHIP. All total he managed an ERA+ of 324. You read that right, during the 2019 LIDOM regular season the right-hander was 224 points better than league average. The former prospect wasn’t done yet, he had two rounds of LIDOM playoffs to get through.
In the Round Robin Valdez pitched 24.1 innings. His final line consisted of a 1.35 ERA, 24 strikeouts, and only 3 walks. His ERA+? A mite below his regular season, but I don’t think anyone was complaining about a 243 mark that helped to propel Licey into the LIDOM finals. He would only appear once in the finals: 6.2 innings, 12 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 1 earned run. His Tigres would come up short, but after the dust had settled Valdez found himself named Pitcher of the Year for a second league in the 2019-2020 season. It made sense too, his total numbers for the LIDOM season were insane: A 1.26 ERA and 287 ERA+ with 76 strikeouts and 9 walks in 71.2 innings.
All total in 2019-2020 Valdez threw 247.1 innings across two regular seasons and two playoffs. His combined ERA clocks in at 2.00 and he amassed 216 strikeouts and limited himself to 30 walks. On their own, all those statistics point to a pitcher who was at the top of his game all year long. That he did it in two different leagues, taking both of his teams to the finals, and maintained not just his effectiveness the entire time but his utter dominance speaks volumes to how much better Valdez was than any other pitcher on the unaffiliated circuit in 2019-2020. Heck, he was so great that I have little doubt he would have done similarly in affiliated baseball.
The dominant righty used his 2019-2020 heroics to get the Baltimore Orioles to give him another crack at the big leagues after a two-year absence. The Orioles put him in the bullpen where over 14.1 innings he crafted a 1.26 ERA, 0.698 WHIP, and struck out 12 while walking 3. His bWAR was an even 1.0 and his ERA+ was 368. Now, I fully understand that the ERA+ and bWAR are the results of him pitching well in a very small sample. That’s all fine and dandy, but what matters to me is that in an MLB season that sucked from beginning to end Valdez’s success and eventual winning of the Orioles’ closer role is a truly fantastic story.
He’s now 36-years-old, no longer the prospect that he once was many years ago. All the same, coming off of his dominant 2019-2020, César Valdez finally lived up to the expectations originally laid on him during his first affiliated baseball stint. He’ll be on the mound for Licey soon enough and when he is just know that you’re watching one of the best stories, and pitchers, in baseball over the past few years.
Lead photo courtesy of Félix León – Diario Libre