When last-place closers go to contenders
Jose Veras found the opportunity of his career in Houston, where the Astros gave him a chance to close. He thrived, going 19-for-22 in save chances with very good secondary stats. Now he’s headed to a first-place team in Detroit, where he’s going to set up while filling in on occasion for Joaquin Benoit in save chances.
Harold Reynolds made an argument on MLB Network that Veras’ job had a ton of pressure. When you know your team’s good enough for a very limited number of wins, saving those games is crucial. Others would argue the opposite.
“The key question,” one Major League talent evaluator said, “is how he’ll do in a tight race.”
It’s hard to throw a blanket evaluation on this situation and use past instances of similar relievers going from worst to first. Still, here are a few instances:
- The guy who led last year’s Astros in saves, Brett Myers, went to the White Sox last July. He, too, had 19 saves in Houston. Unlike Veras, Myers had been a closer on a contending team before that, saving 21 games for the 2007 Phillies. He took on a setup role in Chicago, won three games, picked up holds on eight others, and pretty much replicated his stats from Houston. He picked up a few costly losses down the stretch.
- Matt Capps was a great closer on some really bad Pirates teams for a few years, then did the same for the last-place Nationals in 2010 before Washington traded him to the Twins near the deadline. Capps thrived in Minnesota down the stretch, racking up 16 saves over the final couple months to help lead the Twins to another AL Central title. His tenure in the Twin Cities was a little rougher after that, but he was a huge pickup for Minnesota.
- Jon Rauch graduated from workhorse reliever to closer in Washington in 2008, then went to Arizona at the deadline. Rauch didn’t close with the Diamondbacks, and he had a few good weeks in the setup role before struggling mightily from mid-August on. Ironically, Rauch was closing in 2010 with the Twins before Capps came in and replaced him.