On a team that has many question marks in its’ starting rotation, building a pitching staff backwards is something Pittsburgh Pirates GM Neal Huntington has had to do, much like John Hart in Cleveland and Kevin Towers in San Diego. It’s a smart formula. One that Towers is now attempting to do in Arizona.
And on a team that boots as many balls as the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s important to have some pitchers that can get a swing and a miss regularly. Screw allowing the guy at the plate an opportunity to hit the ball to the Bucs infielders, just get a much needed whiff.
Jose Veras did that in 2010 when he put up a career high in strikeouts per nine innings pitched. In 2011, don’t be surprised when the 6’6″ right hander provides it for Clint Hurdle and his looking to become relevant again Pirates.
One projection from Bill James forsees Veras striking out 69 batters in 66 innings in 2011. Seeing that Veras outperformed his projections in 2010, Veras could be another Neal Huntington gem for the Pirates bullpen. If the crystal ball holds true, Veras also could be a coveted acquistion come mid-season, when the rebuilding Pirates may have some better internal options than they have had in the past.
FAKE GAME EXAMPLE:
In Bradenton yesterday, Veras took the mound in the fifth inning with the Bucs trailing 8-0 in large part thanks to poor fielding and softly hit balls. Three batters and seven pitches later, the Pirates defense was in the dugout after Veras struckout a batter looking on three straight, got a flyball foulout, and got three straight swings and misses.
In the sixth, Veras got two quick, two pitch, fly ball outs, before John Mayberry doubled. Following a walk on four straight pitches, Veras stranded the two Phillies with his final strikeout of the day to complete his two scoreless innings of work.
The command challenged reliever had many options this offseason. The fact that he chose the Pittsburgh Pirates might surprise some Pirates fans.
Veras had offers from several teams including the pitching rich World Champion San Francisco Giants. A team in desperate need of relief help, the Tampa Bay Rays, who signed Veras in 1998 as an amateur free agent, came calling. The Rays needed to replace six relievers who worked 292 innings over 360 appearances last year and rolloed out of Tampa as free agents for $67.65 million worth of contracts. Veras had a better than average shot at making the Rays roster.
Veras passed on both opportunities to don the black and gold.
Veras also had calls from other more high profile organizations in need of a hard throwing, swing-and-miss right hander including the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies. Also, the unclutch bullpen of the Florida Marlins reportedly offered Veras to return after non-tendering him on December 3rd.
SO WHO IS THIS GUY?
When the 30-year old Veras breaks camp with the Pirates in a couple of weeks, he will need to be added to the 40-man roster. Veras comes at hitters hard with his heat, has a plus breaking ball and a sinker in the mid 80s.
At the age of 26, Veras pitched for the Yankess in the American League Divisional Series and has logged just 176 career innings with nearly a strikeout per inning. In 2010 with the Marlins, Veras had a rough start to the season. He pitched in four April games, walked six and gave up eight runs.
On April 13, the Marlins had seen enough and Veras was sent to AAA. He returned on June 25. He would stay with the club for the rest of the season giving up 12 earned runs (four HR) over 43.1 innings pitched.
For the year, Veras had 54 strikeouts and 29 walks in 48 innings. In his career, Veras has a 1.35 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, and 5.0 BB/9. In the past three years, Veras has worked 52 games and 52 innings on average with 9.1 strikeouts per nine and the less than stellar five walks per nine.
Yeh, Veras has issued five walks per nine innings pitched, that’s the scary part, but look at his strand rates below. During his time in Florida last season he actually increased his walk rate to 5.4 walks per nine. But Veras also put up a career best 10.1 strikeouts per nine thanks to a strong finish.
Veras relies on a mid-90′s heater and has showed it off this spring for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The only thing we didn’t like was the walks, but that’s the book on Veras. He has issued four free passes in six innings this spring, but has struckout five and given up an earned run.
If you like advanced statistics, Veras has some intersting numbers to digest. The average strand rate over the past three seasons in MLB is around 71-72 percent. Veras put up an 82% in 2008, 66% in 2009, and 76% in 2010.
Veras also has held opposing hitters to below the MLB average the past three seasons. In 2008 Veras held the opposition to .235 (259 was ML avg), in 2009 Veras held the opposition to a .220 average (258 was ML average) and in 2010 Veras held opposing hitters to a .187 average (253 was ML average.)
Now about those walks Jose…
SO WHAT’S IT ALL MEAN?
It means that an effective Jose Veras could have a lot of eyes on him once again at the deadline, especially from Tampa should it have any trouble reloading their bullpen. And doesn’t Tampa have a few things to offer? But in the short term it means so long to the hittable 2010 Pirates arms like Sean Gallagher, and Steven Jackson who threw a combined 45.2 innings with just 29 strikeouts and 28 walks.
Vamos Jose Veras!
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VIDEOS OF VERAS WORKING AGAINST THE TAMPA BAY RAYS EARLIER THIS YEAR IN SPRING TRAINING