Jose Veras spent last season as a reliever for the Milwaukee Brewers, but in retrospect he was also something more: a year-long experiment on the value of those relievers a fan observes day-in and day-out. On the whole, the newest member of the Astros’ bullpen was decent in Milwaukee — he posted a 92 ERA- and a 92 FIP- as well as a sharp 1.39 WPA — but I wager he will not be remembered as such.
Veras’s profile — a fireballer with tremendous stuff but an infuriating inability to locate — played out in his season as a whole. For two long stretches, Veras couldn’t fire strikes and struggled mightily to get outs. Observe, his rolling monthly ERA for the 2012 season:
From April 23rd through May 12th, Veras appeared nine times (8.2 innings) and allowed 17 hits, five walks and 11 runs (oddly, no home runs), compiling a minus-0.39 WPA and contributing to three Brewers losses. From July 3rd through July 31st, Veras appeared 11 times (9.2 innings) and allowed 11 hits, six walks and 10 runs (three home runs), compiling a minus-0.25 WPA in parts of five Brewers losses.
The latter stretch was especially poorly timed for the Milwaukee district of the court of public opinion. Veras couldn’t hide among the rest of the Brewers bullpen as the unit posted a 5.77 ERA (MLB worst) and 5.01 FIP (NL worst)w in July. The Brewers went 11-14 over the month and dropped eight games in the NL Central standings.
It isn’t difficult to understand why the Brewers didn’t feel comfortable tendering a contract to Veras despite his overall solid performance. He is the definition of unreliable and can go bad for weeks at a time. He eventually snaps out of it, as talent and regression suggest he must. But such a pitcher can suck the confidence right out of a manager, and with Veras likely due $3 million in his third and final arbitration season, it was a commitment Milwaukee was unwilling to make.
For the Astros, though — a club both without a plan to contend in 2013 as well as one without experienced relievers — Veras fits, if largely as an experiment of their own. Veras’s mid-90s fastball and devastating (when located) curveball come from a violent and difficult to repeat delivery. Quiet things down, and who knows? The physical tools — at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Veras is imposing on the mound — could turn the 32-year-old into more than just an inconsistent middle reliever with flashes of brilliance and incompetence alike (and a nice trade haul with it).
Even if Veras remains his old frustrating self, he will be productive enough to be worth Houston’s while, especially once teams start searching for relief help come trade deadline season. The Astros will stomach the bad and take the good — like the 0.98 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 18.1 innings from May 14th through July 1st, between the two horrific stretches — plenty to justify continuing the Jose Veras experiment.