The general reaction to today's trade that brought Jose Veras to Detroit started with "Great, bullpen help!" It was shortly followed by a trickling of "...who's that?" from a significant portion of the Tigers fanbase. Veras -- while putting together a nice season for the Houston Astros -- isn't exactly a household name yet.
As the writer that profiled Jose Veras as a possible trade candidate over a month ago, I have been rooting for this trade to happen more than most fans. He has rebounded from a rough start to the season to put together some career-best numbers in 2013.
Obviously, the biggest number that jumps out here is Veras' walk rate. He is walking nearly two batters per nine innings fewer than any other season in his career, which has had a significant impact on both his WHIP and FIP. The splits get even more significant when you consider what he has done since June 1st: 18 strikeouts to just four walks and two earned runs in 19 innings. He is 19 for 22 in save opportunities this season, but hasn't blown a save since May 24th.
An easy explanation for the drop in walk rate is Veras' willingness to attack hitters. He is throwing 63.9% first pitch strikes in 2013, well above his career rate of 53.0%. His swinging strike rate has held steady around 9% over the past few years, and while he is getting more hitters to chase this season -- his O-swing percentage is at a career high -- he's not getting any more strikeouts than usual.
However, it goes deeper than that. Veras is allowing just 6.1 hits per nine innings in 2013, over a full hit per nine innings lower than his career average. His batting average on balls in play is .240, largely thanks to a line drive rate of just 15.1% and a pop-up rate of 14.3%. His ground ball and fly ball rates are close to his career norms and he hasn't been particularly lucky (or unlucky) in terms of BABIP on any batted ball split.
The other knock on Veras in 2013 is his continuing struggles against left-handed hitters. The venerable GWilson popped into one of our other threads and broke down Veras' performance a bit further.
The most striking number here is the way Jose’s K-rate deteriorates against lefties. This has been somewhat masked by an excellent (or fortunate) .246 BABIP allowed to LHB, but this probably won’t continue with Detroit. The weak Tiger defense has allowed an almost unfathomable, and ML-worst, .335 BABIP in high-leverage PAs this year.
Veras has allowed a .279 wOBA against left-handed hitters in 2013, 13th in the American League among right-handed hitters. Yes, the low BABIP plays into that, but his approach has changed as well. Last season, Veras threw a changeup 10.9% of the time against left-handed hitters, according to Brooks Baseball. Lefties hit a whopping .500 off the pitch, though in only 12 at-bats. This season, he's using the changeup 19.7% of the time and opposing lefties are hitting it at a .267 clip.
His curveball has been more effective as well. Opposing hitters from both sides of the plate are pounding it into the ground at a 53.6% clip for a .133 batting average. He hasn't been using it as often, but for some reason it is breaking considerably more than in years past. The horizontal movement on his curveball has increased by over three inches compared to last season, while its velocity has dipped slightly. His release points seem similar compared to years past, so the underlying cause of this new-found nastiness is unclear.
Additionally, the Tigers defense may not be as much of a detriment as our sabermetrically-inclined friend would lead you to believe with the above comment. The Tigers are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball, but the Astros rank as the worst in terms of defensive efficiency. Additionally, Veras' fly ball tendencies -- his 40.7% career fly ball rate is well above American League averages -- plays into the Tigers' lone defensive strength. The Tigers have allowed a league average .102 BABIP on fly balls this season. Home run rates are much higher at Minute Maid Park in Houston compared to Comerica Park as well.
Overall, this is exactly the type of move that the Tigers were looking to make at the trade deadline. Prospect hounds will say that Danry Vasquez and another player is an overpay for a reliever of Veras' caliber, but by the time Vasquez even sniffs the big leagues the jury will already be out on whether Veras was worth it. He gives Jim Leyland another late inning option that can hold his own against opposite-handed hitters, and with a $3.25 million option for the 2014 season, could prove to be another deadline deal that pays dividends beyond a late season stretch run.
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