Jose Veras to Close for Astros

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

The Astros plan to use Jose Veras in the closer role this season. Does this do the 2013 Astros any good, or is this just another investment in trade fodder?

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Jose Veras will be given 9th inning responsibilities for the Astros in 2013. This is interesting, but not unexpected by most of us who have been paying attention to the Astros for the past two seasons (yes, there are a few of us left).

Earlier in the week, our good buddy Zachary Levine of Baseball Prospectus glanced at the Astros' acquisition Veras (subscription required), and came to the bland conclusion of, "...my reaction when the Astros signed Pena and Veras this week: okay." I took this to mean, "whatever, what's the point?" Specifically, Levine points out the almost negligible win total that Veras will add to the 2013 club.

Levine's reaction is a little surprising given his knowledge of the Astros and their new front office. GM Jeff Lunhow and friends just traded 2012 closer Wilton Lopez for Alexes White and Gillingham a couple weeks ago. White at least, is likely to get a long look in the Astros' rotation this season, and Gillingham is an actual prospect of sorts. That's two contributing warm bodies in exchange for a guy who, as recently as 2011, was just another warm body.

Let's trip back to 2011. The Astros had this really hoopy frood named Mark Melancon closing games for them. Prior to being duck-duck-goosed into the 9th inning role, he also was 'just another guy'. But at the end of the season, the Astros' newly-minted GM swapped him for Jed Lowrie (a top NL shortstop in 2012 prior to injury) and Kyle Weiland, who figured to play in the rotation until he got hurt. That's two major league players in return for one average-Joe-turned-closer, for those of you counting at home.

It's a little obvious at this point that Lunhow has identified jumped-up closers as a possible market opportunity for stocking the farm system. Look at the following list of some post-free agency closers and their contracts:

Player 2012 FIP 2012 SV Contract
Jonathan Broxton 3.09 27 3Y, $21 million
Rafael Betancourt 3.03 31 2Y, $8.5 million
Heath Bell 3.76 19 3Y, $27 million
Brian Wilson N/A 0 2Y, $15 million
Brett Myers 4.26 19 2Y, $23 million
Jose Valverde 3.57 35 3Y, $23 million
Jonathan Papelbon 2.94 38 4Y, $50 to $63 million
Rafael Soriano 3.27 42 3Y, $35 million

That list has an average of almost $9 million per season (the list is not all-inclusive, by the way), or $336,887.84 per save per season. One could see how if Veras nabs 20 or so saves over the course of 2012, even with a FIP in the High 3's or Low 4's, he would be an excellent trade candidate, with his 2014 salary of $4 to $5.5 million.

In very small sample sizes, the numbers do not favor Veras as a closer. By Fangraphs' Leverage Index, Veras posted an ERA of 5.73 in High-Leverage situations in 2012 (11 IP) and a 7.06 ERA (56-1/3 IP) in his career. Not good, but not necessarily indicative of future performance. Indeed, the batting average of his opponents in those high leverage situations was actually 0.188 and his FIP was 4.24. Not great, but a lot better than 7.06. But it's so hard to judge, as those 56 innings were spread out over seven seasons. Look at this almost-useless chart of data from the past five years:

Year IP High-Leverage FIP
2012 11 4.28
2011 19.1 3.59
2010 9.1 5.44
2009 4.2 5.67
2008 8.1 4.81

If one can believe such a small sample size, it's conceivable that with more regular exposure to high-pressure situations (as in 2011), he could be fine. I'd imagine if the majority of my appearances were in low and medium-leverage situations, those high-leverage ones would make me a little more jangle-ly than if I were used to them. There's some psychology there. What I'm saying is - there's really no way to tell for sure how Veras will perform in the closers' role until he gets a long shot, because past data isn't complete enough to tell us much.

What do you think? Is this a farm-boosting move for minimal cost? Or is this a case of the Astros putting the most expensive guy in the "most important" role because they think it will make a difference in their 2013 performance?

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