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jose veras cubsThe Chicago Cubs picked up a sure-fire closer this offseason – at least insofar as, the moment he was signed, the Cubs said Jose Veras was their closer for 2014.

And then Veras had a mixed Spring Training, allowing seven earned runs over nine innings (though he did strike out ten and walk just two). And then, in his first appearance, he blew a save opportunity with some wildness. And then, in his second appearance, he couldn’t finish out an 8-1 game because of some serious wildness.

So, is that it? Is that enough for us to have “the conversation” about Veras as the Cubs’ closer? After all, it took only a few bad outings at the outset of 2013 for then-closer Carlos Marmol to lose his job. That decision was generally held by fans and pundits as a solid showing of decisiveness, and a necessary evil. Would yanking Veras now be the same kind of virtuous reaction?

I’m not so sure about that just yet.

When Dale Sveum employed an itchy trigger finger with Carlos Marmol in 2013, there was already some history there. Marmol had had a very nice second half in 2012, but we’d seen the Good Carlos/Bad Carlos dichotomy before. When Marmol was good, he was freaking nails. When Marmol was off, things could get really dicey and fast. Heck, in that “good” 2012 stretch came after Marmol had temporarily been shuffled out of the 9th inning mix.

There was also the question of how much value the Cubs could reclaim in Marmol, even if he pitched fantastically from April until late July in 2013. That is to say, there were reasons for possible trading teams to be concerned about Marmol’s ability in the second half, even if he was pitching well at the time, based on warning signs in the preceding couple years. The risk, then, if keeping Marmol in the job probably had limited upside.

With Veras, those issues aren’t quite as present. Yes, prior to 2013, Veras walked a lot of guys, but he tended to make it work. There isn’t quite the same history of implosion risk there, and, indeed, in 2013, Veras was just flat-out great. If Veras looks good from here into July, he’s going to have legitimate, albeit not enormous, trade value. A touch more rope is probably due with Veras than was due with Marmol in early 2013.

Does that mean Veras remains the closer through thick and thin for weeks and weeks of struggles? Of course not. We can’t ignore the fact that, prior to 2012, Veras was generally a solid, but not back-end-dominant reliever. Indeed, prior to 2013, he’d never been a closer. If a pattern develops soon, Ricky Renteria won’t be able to bury his head in the sand. (I really wanted to say “in the ivy” there, but it felt a little hacky.)

I’m simply saying it may not quite be time to pull the plug on Veras because he blew one one-run save (in a marathon game that saw him get up and down five times before actually coming into the game), and because he couldn’t find the strike zone with a seven-run lead. The second one is, admittedly, far more troubling, but, even still. It’s just one outing. At least the curveball looked nasty, and the movement on his changeup (that ball that darts to the right is his changeup, right?) was similarly sick. He just didn’t seem to know where it, or his fastball, were going.

Veras obviously has the stuff to be a great late-inning reliever, and the Cubs might as well give him a little more time to see whether he can establish himself in that role (he’s had only one save opportunity, after all, and it was kind of a wonky one). Thankfully, they aren’t lacking for other interesting options at this point.

If Veras blows the next one, then maybe I’m ready to have the conversation. For now, this has merely been a conversation about the conversation.

  • VanceLawblawsLawBlog

    I wonder what Joe Borowski is up to….

  • JL82

    Yes time to give it to Strop

  • Jon

    I thought the scouting report on Veras was that he hit up to the mid 90’s on his fastball. From what I have seen, I haven’t seen him get above 91-92 on his fastball during games. With limited sample size, I don’t know how valuable Pitch/fx data is this early into a season, but it does seem to support that

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2063&position=P#pfxpitchvelocity

  • ibcnu2222

    Strop should be the closer until Vizcaino is ready.

    • ssckelley

      Rondon appears to be another closing candidate as well.

      • InTheoWeTrust

        Yes Strop and then Vizcaino….lets see the future. Rondon has looked great this year, but he is a set up man.

  • Edwin

    According to Brooks Baseball, he throws a changeup.

  • CubFan Paul

    Signing Veras and handing him the job no matter what is the exact opposite of what Theo&Co have said about the closers’ position.

    Go Figure.

    • Norm

      What did Theo&Co say about the closer position?

      Seems to me giving Veras the job is exactly what they would do…let him get a number of saves and flip him for something since “closers” are so overvalued.

      • CubFan Paul

        Create value without paying a veteran to do it

        • Funn Dave

          Right you are. I’m thinking, after the failed Marmol experiment, they wanted to go with what at the time appeared to be a pretty safe bet.

  • VittersStartingLF

    My wife is a Brewer fan so we watch both the Brewers and the Cubs. A couple of years ago when Veras pitched middle relief for the Brewers, I was very unimpressed. He really struggled. I was very surprised he was signed to be the closer. The day he signed, I remember my first thought was, oh no. Veras has done nothing to change that first thought so far including his poor spring training.

  • Spriggs

    After all the daily lectures on small sample sizes and spring training not meaning anything… I am very surprised we are even having any conversations about any of this just now.

    • Jon

      To me, it’s different between a pitcher/reliever and a position player. For a position player, it’s often a matter the law of averages, and letting base hits starting to fall in.

      For a pitcher, you can judge the pitch velocity/movement and the ability to locate it irrespective of sample size. As for trade value, baseball is getting smarter, I don’t think relievers are still getting the insane value. Has there been anything close to a Karcher/Garland deal recently in baseball?

      • Funn Dave

        Not to mention, relievers are often so little-used that their sample sizes remain relatively small well into the season.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        “For a pitcher, you can judge the pitch velocity/movement and the ability to locate it irrespective of sample size.”

        Those are not invariant over the course of X weeks. Moreover, as a guy’s command and velocity on pitches in the same game are heavily correlated, you need a pretty large sample size to gauge expected in those things over time.

      • Spriggs

        So he hasn’t looked sharp… and since his average fastball is down about 6/10s of a mph from last year (in a whopping 1.2 innings pitched!!!), he is a failure already? This is absurd.

        I guess we can expect Verlander to be demoted soon since his velocity is down over 2 mph from his best years and in about 8.5 times the sample size this year. Stick a fork in him.

        • Jon

          Where did I call him a failure? Point that out to me.

          He’s too inconsequential to be a failure.

  • https://twitter.com/LouHemp beerhelps

    So is Kevin Gregg still available?

    • cms0101

      Lol… No thank you. They really should have moved him last year before he was able to show what he really was. That nationally televised Cardinals game just before the All Star break killed his trade value. Not that they would have gotten much for him, but I can’t believe they couldn’t have gotten a small amount of international pool money, or a low level pitcher from some team looking for pen help. The closer position is a place where they can create value by signing a veteran and flipping him after he plays well. Now Veras just has to cooperate and actually get hitters out.

      • ssckelley

        I agree, I know the FO has made some really good deals but they waited to long on players like Gregg, Marmol, and perhaps Schierholtz.

        • Funn Dave

          Don’t forget Barney!!

    • ssckelley

      lol, yes he is still a free agent waiting for his phone to ring.

      Actually when Gregg hit the corners with his off speed pitch he was tough to hit. When he had to rely on his (not so fast) fastball is when he got in trouble.

  • E

    Strop will be a closer somewhere, eventually. If I owned the Cubs, the first thing I would do is create a dress code policy. If you wear a Cubs hat, it has to be on straight. No pulling to one side to represent your gang affiliation.

    • Jon

      Dominican gangbangers positing as MLB pitchers are really becoming a problem these days….

      • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

        I guess Strop and Fernando Rodney hanging out playing xbox qualifies as a “gang” these days

    • ced landrum

      Whoa! I’m not sure about this.

      • Jon

        My first question would be, does E work in the Eagles front office?

    • fortyonenorth

      If I +1 this comment does it make me old and out of touch?

      • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

        Do you sit on your porch waving you cane and yelling at the neighborhood kids?? If so, then yes

      • Jon

        maybe a bit racist…

    • CubFan Paul

      White people are funny.

    • E

      Of course because Strop is black and I criticized the way he wears his hat, it must be about race. It couldn’t be that I’m right and that “representing” your clothing to the left or right is typically gang related, white people included. No, it must be because I’m racist.

      Internet trolls are funny.

      • Jon

        I hate to break it to you, but just because someone wears there hat a certain way, does not mean they are in a gang.

        • E

          I didn’t say he was in a gang. I simply stated that the way he wears his hat is a gang sign and it shouldn’t be allowed. Glad I could end your confusion.

          • Jon

            Are you by any chance a member of any neighborhood watches?

            • CubFan Paul

              It’s still too soon for Zimmerman jokes.

              E has probably seen Westside Story 10 too many times.

            • E

              I accept your concession.

              • Jon

                You said

                “No pulling to one side to represent your gang affiliation.”

                You right there are assuming they are in a gang. Really all you have to say is a turned hat looks unprofessional and that is totally ok.

                • E

                  Me right there inferred he was in a gang. I stand by that inference.

                  It’s totally ok regardless.

                  • InTheoWeTrust

                    Sorry but E you aren’t making any sense. I have worked in Corrections and my Dad was a Warden for 15 years. So if I tilt my hat then I must be in gang, that just simply is not true.

          • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

            Do you wear the color blue? red? purple? yellow? Ever rode a motorcycle?

            If so, are you in a gang?

            • CubFan Paul

              Ruff Ryder til I die.

            • E

              Wearing gang colors inadvertently doesn’t mean you are a member of a gang, just the same as riding a motorcycle. But those things aren’t really the point.

              The point is, wearing your hat to the side (in Strop’s case, left, which represents Bloods) is a known gang side. Wearing your hat to the side isn’t inadvertent. It’s deliberate. If he’s doing it for style, it doesn’t matter.

              The Bloods have a very large presence in the Dominican. 2nd largest gang there behind the Latin Kings.

              • CubFan Paul

                “If he’s doing it for style, it doesn’t matter”

                It matters if he’s doing something wrong (IN YOUR EYES) inadvertently.

                • E

                  It matters because, as I said at the beginning, if I owned the Cubs, there would be zero tolerance for gang activity.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    I saw the game yesterday, what gang activity are you referring to?

                    • Kyle

                      Employment of non-white players.

                  • Jon

                    As opposed to current ownership, which has been known to tolerate gang activity, in limited quantities.

                    • E

                      Or it could be that they are just mindlessly naive, like those who have commented on my opinion.

              • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

                It does matter though. Maybe he wears it to the side because it is the most comfortable for him. Maybe he is superstitious. Who are you to question him for it?? It just comes across as incredibly ignorant

                • CubFan Paul

                  “Maybe he is superstitious”

                  Like 99.9% of all ball players. He probably had a great game without realizing his hat was cocked and now wears it like that to recapture that greatness in every outing.

                  “It just comes across as incredibly ignorant”

                  Incredibly.

                • Jon

                  [img]http://baltimoresportsreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/strop-ninja-turles-shirt.jpg[/img]

                  In that photo(still with the Orioles) Strop is wearing his hat completely backwards. Perhaps he changed gang affiliations when traded to the Cubs?

                  Also, what kind of cryptic/gang message does that Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles shirt send?

                  Maybe it is some elaborate Asian/Dominican type of gang.

                  • CubFan Paul

                    Jon wins the internet.

                  • ssckelley

                    Damn, he is showing off his guns in that picture. Is he available to play linebacker as well? I know a team in Chicago that could use one.

              • andyb

                i always wore mine cocked a little to whichever side the sun was on.. i thought it helped.

                • CubFan Paul

                  “cocked a little to whichever side the sun was on”

                  So did I, and still do.

                  Is it possible to drive-by myself?

                  • andyb

                    or maybe drive-by each other if we are facing different directions?

              • cubbiehawkeye

                Isn’t blue a crypt color? He wears his hat to the left (blood side you say) yet that very hat is a rival gangs color. I think you’re are making too much out of nothing. Baseball players do weird things.

          • Kyle

            “I didn’t say he was in a gang. ”

            Yes you did.

            “If you wear a Cubs hat, it has to be on straight. No pulling to one side to represent your gang affiliation.”

            • E

              No I didn’t. I inferred it.

              • Norm

                “your” is possessive.

              • Kyle

                That word doesn’t mean what you think it means.

                • MightyBear

                  Inconceivable.

      • CubFan Paul

        Strop is Dominican.

        • E

          Oh I forgot, they don’t have gangs in the Dominican Republic.

          • CubFan Paul

            It’s an important distinction when you’re claiming not to be a racist.

            • E

              Lesson learned. If I’m against gang signs I’m a racist.

              • Kyle

                Well, that’s not the direction I’d put the cause and effect, but the conclusion’s about right.

                • E

                  Whatever it takes to assuage your white guilt.

      • Funn Dave

        No, it isn’t. If all the frat bros I saw walking around with their hats on sideways were in gangs, the police would be in for some serious trouble.

        • E

          Yes it is.

      • ssckelley

        Friggin gangster!

        [img]http://teenchive.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/justin-bieber-purple-sideways-hat.jpg[/img]

        Send his ass back to Canada!

    • Patrick W.

      Rabbit Maranville, notorious founder of the Latin Bloods, wore his cap askew.

      [img]http://cdn.fangraphs.com/not/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/patches_1930.jpeg[/img]

      • CubFan Paul

        Gang propaganda. Brett needs to delete this pic pronto.

        • Patrick W.

          My favorite part of that image is that he is in Braves uniform, and the left arm sports a Pilgrim hat with the year of the first Thanksgiving on it.

          That is awesome.

          • DarthHater

            And people said I was nuts for suggesting a “1614” patch to honor the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Rosicrucian Order…

          • college_of_coaches

            Cool! Good eyes there Patrick.

            Also Darth, you know that the first rule of the Rosicrucian Order is to never mention the Rosicrucian Order.

    • Funn Dave

      Obvious troll post.

      • Cyranojoe

        *Successful troll post.

    • E

      I forgot how naive people are.

      • Melrosepad

        My question though would be does he wear it that way for a specific reason. If memory serves, wasn’t there a pitcher for the Marlins that got ripped for wearing his hat that same way until it came out he had issues with his left eye and the hat was tipped to the side to give more shade to that eye to allow him to pitch effectively.

      • InTheoWeTrust

        Thank you that is exactly what I do on the golf course. I am not in a gang I do it for the real reason of protecting my right eye from the sun. Before you cast judgement please know the facts, and the only way you are going to know the facts is asking Strop. We have No idea why he wears his hat that way. So What gang is Chapman in?

    • DarthHater

      They need to apply that dress code to Clark. And a “pants required” policy, too. :-P

    • Karl Groucho

      lol

  • terencemann

    Does it matter where he pitches, though? Blown leads can happen any inning if the pitcher isn’t up to the challenge. Unless the Cubs should release him, he has to pitch somewhere.

    • Norm

      He can pitch while the Cubs are losing then. Lots of opportunities.

  • Indy57

    RR did the right thing pulling him yesterday. He’s still the closer, but he should be on a short rope. Walks are killers and we’ve seen this horror story before. Short rope.

  • mudge

    Guessing Veras has trouble with his grip in the cold. So relax. I bet he only walks three guys in his next appearance.

    • Fishin Phil

      Thanks for the encouraging words, lol.

    • Funn Dave

      Sorry but a guess from an internet commenter doesn’t instill a whole lot of confidence in me. I will be sure to keep the temp in mind, but I’m not ready to pin all his troubles onto it.

  • http://kempfintl.com pfk

    I think he needs to work some things out and deserves to get more chances – just not as a closer for now. Have him try set up for a few outings and if he gets back into a good space, then move him back to closer.

  • CubsFaninMS

    I believe it would be wise to tell the bullpen that, if you are in a closing situation and you walk/bean two hitters, there’s a very high probability you’re coming out of the game. That would cushion you from a Marmol type that can’t control the strike zone. Most of these ninth inning guys have one or two electric pitches. Generally speaking (of course), if they have control that night, you will normally see them succeed in that role. Control is key.

    • Funn Dave

      Seems like a great plan to me.

  • Blackhawks1963

    Veres is terrible. The Cubs took a low-risk flyer that he could turn things around and become a flip candidate in July. The rate he is going I can seem him being released by June. He looked awful in Arizona too.

    • Funn Dave

      If you were a wizard in Lord of the Rings, your title would be Blackhawk the Opinionated.

      • Fishin Phil

        Hee, hee, that one made me giggle.

    • Jason P

      A low risk flyer that he would turn things around from his career year last year?

  • TommyK

    I don’t know I’ve ever seen a pitcher walk 4 batters in the 9th inning with a big lead. Hard to believe, really.

  • cubmig

    Are there any other “problems” that are not problems to be discussed?

    …….hmmm……How about being a Cubs fan?…..hmmm……

  • Dustin S

    Was at the game yesterday and had a great time in the LF bleachers (sporting my new BN shirt too) with a bunch of fun folks. The MVP chants for Bonifacio were pretty funny, a little silly only 6 games in but a good time.

    As far as Veras, my initial response would be to write it off as one of those instances where a closer is put in a non-save situation and is awful. I’ve always thought that was a cop-out though. These are pros and they shouldn’t get a pass on putting in less than 100% just because of the score or not being in a situation to be rewarded a stat. So it was incredibly frustrating that he couldn’t throw just throw strikes and make Philly put the ball in play up 8-1 in the 9th. I have confidence that Veras is much better than he’s shown early, but a short leash especially with Strop looking capable is a good idea. Wins won’t come easy, and the last thing this team needs to is start blowing leads in the 9th like the debacles of last year.

  • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

    So, anyone wanna actually discuss Veras? Or even Strop, but, like, Strop’s baseball ability?

    • Fishin Phil

      Brett, it is too early to tell.
      ;)

    • CubFan Paul

      Too small a sample size.

    • Patrick W.

      The best barometer of what you’ve written is the discussion afterward. If you’ve written it all, you shouldn’t expect much conversation about the subject.

      I think most people agree with you (wait for a little more data) and the ones that don’t will generally be ignored. You’ve found the one thing most of us agree on, and the almost all the rest don’t care.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Probably fair. And you know I don’t mind tangents. I just didn’t care for that particular one.

        • Jon

          I think it is a classic to be honest.

          • http://fullcount1544.blogspot.com FullCountTommy

            If anything, it brought Jon, Paul, Kyle, and myself all together. There are very few topics that will produce that outcome

      • Funn Dave

        Wow. Very insightful, Patrick.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      Who? Is he running for President?

    • Edwin

      Strop and Veras are pretty much the same type of pitcher. Decent K%, bad BB% at time. I think it’s too soon to “make the switch”, but I don’t think it matters much either way. I think the Cubs would be better off just using the closer by committee approach, and playing the hot hand.

      • Spriggs

        Late in the game, if you really need a shut down inning against the heart of a team’s line-up, I would want Strop out there over any pitcher on the team. Way over Veras. But that doesn’t mean I think Strop should be the new closer. Just stick to the plan for now. I cannot believe people would even discuss pulling the plug on Veras after an inning and two thirds.

    • 70’s Cub

      Use them both for now! Do not put Veras/Srop in the game w/out a backup ready to get warm fast!

    • 5412

      Hi Brett,

      What surprised me was this. He threw a knee buckling curve ball for a called strike and I never saw it again. His change up was moving in to a right handed batter and out of the zone consistently.

      Why did they continually call for the pitch? If it was breaking so much, why not adjust his aim point a little bit further left? Hell he had a huge lead. To me both things are correctable with decent coaching.

      Of course he gets plenty of time. Let’s see what happens when the weather warms up.

      Regards,
      5412

  • MightyBear

    I really don’t understand the whole closer deal that much anyway. If you have a guy like Kimbrel or Rivera, it’s easy. If you don’t, there’s no reason you can’t ride the hot hand or mix and match. LaRussa did that a lot with the Cardinals. If Veras can’t find the plate, use him in games like yesterday and use Strop in the ninth. If Strop struggles, use somebody else. I still believe the most important thing about a reliever is his ability to throw strikes. Get somebody in there who can throw the ball over the freaking plate.

    • http://www.friendly-confines.com hansman

      The idea of closer is dumb anyway. Use the best pitcher you have in the highest leverage situations.

      Bringing your ace reliever in to protect a 3-run lead in the 9th is just a waste.

    • Picklenose

      I think when you put your post and Hansman’s together you get a pretty good idea. A good manager (and although I don’t want to admit it LaRussa was a good one) has to put his players in a position where their abilities can produce the best results, most of the time. some pitchers are comfortable coming in under any conditions and just getting people out, if you have a bullpen with lots of those guys use the committee approach. If you happen to have one guy, like Rivera, that gets in a groove and can shut down a team almost every 8th or 9th inning then using the traditional closer role may work better. Its up to the manager to figure out how the pitchers in his bullpen operate best and put them in those situations. I don’t think the manager’s job is to try to force pitchers into roles just to make his choices easier.

  • http://bleachernation.com woody

    On one hand you would think that since Veres is on a team that’s not likely to compete for a playoff spot, then what is the harm of being patient with him. But on the other hand with this team every opportunity we have with a lead in the ninth inning is precious and not to be wasted. It’s obvious that his breaking ball is not working and that he can’t at this point command that pitch. This has made him dependant on his fastball to the point where a hitter can just sit on that pitch. In a situation like that you can’t just toss one over the heart of the plate so he is trying to work the outside portion of the plate on either side and consequently throwing a lot of balls. He has a pretty awesome curveball if he can command it. If I were Renteria I wouldn’t put him into any high leverage situations untill he can command that breaking pitch.

    • Jon

      Jose Veras won’t be closing games when this team is ready to compete. There is no upside to being patient with him(nobody is trading you a blue chip prospect for Jose Veras). I just rather seem what some kids could do in high leverage situations.

  • dAn

    It’s never too early to talk about stuff like this issue with Veras. And I don’t think it’s a huge knock against him if the manager uses him in lower leverage situations until he starts to get back on track. Sure, the Cubs told him he would be the closer, but he’s been consistently bad all through ST and the first week of the season. Games should be played as if they matter, and the Cubs have some good options in the pen. He’s still the veteran and the main guy there, but he needs to perform if he wants to be used in high pressure situations. He has shown zero thus far.

    The more interesting conversation, IMO, is the daily lineup. There are so many options and so many guys RR needs to find playing time for, with several young players trying to get established. one one hand, the Cubs want to be able to deal one or two of the vets mid-summer (which means that they need to play regularly) and keep enough guys around to provide depth in case of injuries (which means they don’t want to deal guys like Schierholtz just yet). On the other hand, they need to give a lot of playing time to Kalish, Olt and Lake. The three of those guys should really be starting–especially Kalish who has missed so much time the last three years, and Olt who had a lost season last year and has trouble making a lot of contact as it is. Juggling lineups is going to be a huge challenge for RR the first three months.

  • C. Steadman

    I actually think Justin Grimm would make a good closer candidate and think he should enter the conversation with Veras and Strop. But I wonder if he’ll be groomed more as a SP going forward once Hammel and other SP are traded/injuries arise(also, since he’s stated his preference is starting), but from the SSS I’ve seen from last year and this he looks good.

  • BlameHendry

    With Veras’ recent struggles I don’t think it would be wise to put him in a 1-run ninth inning situation right now. Tell him he can pitch 9th innings with 2 or more run leads, or give him some 7th and 8th inning appearances until he can prove he has regained the ability to throw strikes when needed.

    In the mean time, the closer’s role should belong to Strop. I believe he has the potential to be an even better closer than Veras ever was. That’s not a knock on Veras’ past years, it’s a praise of how good Strop can be. And as for the controversy over Strop’s cap earlier – there’s nothing wrong with it. Culture changes, get over it. So what if it looks stupid? There are much bigger things to focus our attention on.

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