Culture / Sporting Life

Framber Valdez Proves He’s Better Than Justin Verlander and the Best Big Game Pitcher In Baseball Now — The Most Relatable Astros Star Ever?

One of The Most Endearing Pro Athletes Anywhere Is Also a Dominant Force

BY // 06.21.23

Framber Valdez takes all of the Houston Astros’ angst, all the frustration and any fear, and puts it on the most mentally tough shoulders in baseball. His shoulders. With Dusty Baker’s team desperate to snap a doubt-inducing five game losing streak, with the Astros’ old ace on the mound for the other team, Valdez shows everyone why he’s the best big game pitcher in the game today.

There is no comparison between a 29-year-old Framber Valdez, who is at the peak of his powers, and a 40-year-old Justin Verlander any more. Yes, Verlander is coming off a remarkable post Tommy John Cy Young season, but Framber is now in another league. That was already apparent during the Astros championship run last October when Valdez went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 25 postseason innings, while Verlander went a team-aided 2-0 with a 5.85 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 playoff innings.

Valdez had already passed Verlander as the real ace by the end of last season. Few just publicly acknowledged it.

But there is no denying it now. Not after Framber takes a perfect game into the sixth inning, showing the Astros the way to a 4-2 win over the New York Mets and Verlander in one of the more anticipated Minute Maid regular season games in recent memory. Not after Framber shows again why he’s the best big game pitcher in baseball today. The A1 Ace you want on the mound in a potential World Series clincher. The stopper you want when the losses are starting to stack up and a little uneasiness has settled in.

“He gave us all that he had,” Dusty Baker says of Valdez in his postgame press conference.

That is what Framber Valdez always does. It’s why he needs to be vaulted up to the top of the list of the American League’s true Cy Young contenders, right there step for step with Tampa Bay Rays ace Shane McClanahan and former Astro turned $324 million Yankees finger-waving savior Gerrit Cole. Valdez, once considered a flighty prospect who struggled to control his emotions, is now as automatic as direct deposit.

It’s not just quality start after quality start now. It’s usually dominant start after dominant start. Framber Valdez is making a heck of a case for being the best pitcher in baseball. More people just need to start paying attention to it.

There is certainly no one who is better in big games these days. No one who rises to the moment more. No one who is more mentally tough in the most pressure packed situations.

“Framber was incredible today,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman says in postgame remarks broadcast on AT&T SportsNet. “Verlander for five years was incredible for us. When we needed a dub, he was there. And Framber’s been that guy for us.

“He’s been incredible.”

Valdez does it in a way that makes him one of the more endearing Astros that the franchise’s loyal fans have ever rooted for. It’s not just the backstory of signing for only $10,000 (and still “only” making $6.8 million this season compared to Verlander’s $43 million a season cut of Mets owner Steve Cohen’s billions). It’s not just the perseverance and self awareness it took for Valdez to embrace seeing a sports psychologist, the way he turned his mind into one of his strengths on the mound.

It’s the fact that Valdez still isn’t afraid to display his emotions, to show how much he cares too. Like his muttering-to-himself reaction to seeing Mark Canha drop a single just inside the first base line to break up his run of perfection in the sixth inning. Framber Valdez is one of the most relatable professional athletes ever. One who never tries to hide his desire to be great under any veneer of trying to be cool.

“I feel very proud obviously God has allowed me to do this,” Valdez says in his own postgame remarks to reporters through Astros Spanish interpreter Jenloy Herrera. “Feel very proud of all the work I’ve put into the start.”

It’s almost impossible not to root for this guy.

Yes, Verlander is coming off a remarkable post Tommy John Cy Young season, but Framber is now in another league.

New York Mets Justin Verlander faced off against his former Houston Astros teammates and Framber Valdez at Minute Maid Park
Houston Astros ace Framber Valdez does not take his success for granted. (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Valdez’s effort almost always screams out. You don’t go from a fringe prospect to a staff workhorse and A1 Ace without pouring out the sweat equity. In many ways, Framber Valdez turned himself into the best big game pitcher in baseball today with all-out effort and willpower.

The man whose mental game was questioned is now arguably the strongest pitcher in baseball.

The Summer of Cruise — and Framber

Justin Verlander is one of the greatest pitchers ever, a transformative figure for this entire Houston Astros franchise. But he is just not as good as Framber Valdez in 2023. There is no shame in that whatsoever at age 40. Especially with Valdez raising his own game every season too.

Framber Valdez is one of the most relatable professional athletes ever. One who never tries to hide his desire to be great under any veneer of trying to be cool.

Like any of the sports greats, Framber Valdez is always trying to add something new too. Always trying to get better. He’s turned his cutter — once an afterthought — into one of the most devastating pitches in all of baseball when it’s on. Just ask Pete Alonso and those Mets.

Valdez throws 27 cutters on this night to go with 40 sinkers, 17 curveballs and 10 changeups. The sheer volume of Framber Valdez’s arsenal these days would make the most committed survivalist blush. Valdez has more good options to turn to than an actor handed a White Lotus script.

This doesn’t mean that the Astros are suddenly right and back on track. Their five game losing streak ended because they had Framber Valdez on the mound and the Mets didn’t. Where the offense is going to come from figures to remain a nightly concern at least until Yordan Alvarez can get back in the lineup and not just the dugout (where his presence does seem to delight his teammates still).

It is going to be a grind for this 2023 Astros team to make the playoffs. Some of us saw this shaping up this way a month ago. For really the first time since 2016, which is the last time Jim Crane’s franchise wasn’t thrilling in October, making the playoffs will not be largely considered a formality. To get the chance to defend their hard-earned second title, a somewhat flawed roster must rise to the moment against a crowded field of some very good American League teams.

At 40-34 after Framber’s latest rescue, the Astros sit just a half game out of the AL’s third and final wildcard spot. But a talented Toronto team is only a half game behind them and a dangerous Red Sox squad is a game and a half back.

Having Valdez every fifth game does give the Astros something that none of the other contenders have, though. The best big game pitcher in baseball today, the man who knows how to rise to any moment. Framber Valdez is as sure a thing as Tom Cruise this summer — and for that the Astros should be forever grateful.

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