Reliever Jose Veras has done nothing to endear himself to Chicago Cubs fans in the short time that he has been a member of the team. After a bad showing in Spring Training, Veras promptly blew his first save opportunity as the Cubs lost their second consecutive extra innings game to start the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In his next opportunity to close out a game while not in a save situation, Veras did the impossible. He made sure that there was drama to end Sunday afternoon’s game in which the Cubs led 8-1 going into the ninth inning. After a 38-pitch blown save in Pittsburgh, Veras threw 26 pitches on Sunday as he walked four batters and gave up two runs while recording just two outs.
The last attribute a team wants in a closer is wildness, although the Cubs seem to crave it given how long Carlos Marmol had the job. Throughout Veras’ career, walks have been his biggest issue as he has averaged 4.8 BB/9 over 378.2 innings pitched. However, the 2013 season saw him lower his walks to an all-time low rate of 3.2 BB/9, which led to a 3.02 ERA and 1.07 WHIP as he closed out 21 games for the Houston Astros before being traded to the Detroit Tigers.
The reason for Veras’ newfound control in 2013 was a direct result of an increase in his first-pitch strike percentage. For his career, Jose Veras has thrown a first-pitch strike 53 percent of the time. In 2013, that number went up to 60.6 percent. The league average in this category is about 58 percent, so Veras went from being well below average over the course of his career to being above average in 2013.
So far in 2014, Jose Veras has a first-pitch strike percentage of just 38.5 percent.
While it cannot be assumed that Veras will repeat his improved control from 2013, he must at least be given a chance to prove himself one way or another. From 2010-2013, he has kept his ERA at 3.80 or below each year. Yes, Pedro Strop has looked much better than Veras during the first week of the season. However, getting a team out of a jam in the eighth inning is often more important than getting three outs in the ninth.
If Veras can continue to throw first-pitch strikes the way he did in 2013, he should be a capable closer and may turn into a trade chip if the Cubs are out of contention at the deadline.