The two sides of the Cubs Rule 5 coin

2009 may be remembered as the year Jim Hendry lost patience. The Chicago Cubs are coming off a 97-win season with a new look at many levels.

Felix Pie, Rich Hill and Ronny Cedeño failed to meet expectations, ran out of options and were traded to new teams. Michael Wuertz, who often rode the Iowa-to-Chicago shuttle, was shipped to Oakland. Former first-round draft choices Ryan Harvey and Mark Pawelek were released. Tyler Colvin is nervous. Dog house resident Chad Gaudin was released, which cost the Cubs $1.6 million.

Let’s not forget about Donald Veal. Marked as the Cubs’ best left-handed pitching prospect, Veal dealt with the deaths of both his parents as a minor leaguer while struggling to meet the organization’s expectations. When the Rule 5 Draft came along after the 2008 season, Donnie was left exposed and picked up by the Pirates. No one knew for sure if he’d stick in Pittsburgh, and I thought it was quite likely he’d end up being returned before Opening Day.

Somewhat lost in the news of Veal’s departure was another Cubs/Reds Rule 5 draft and trade. Having picked Josh Hamilton from the Rays in 2006 and selling him off to Cincinnati (which later dealt him to Texas), the Cubs reversed the flow in 2008. The Reds selected David Patton from the Rockies and sold him to the Cubs. Since Rule 5 still confuses me, I was expecting Patton to end up somewhere other than Chicago—whether it be Colorado or Cincinnati.

Well, what I expected has not happened. Donald Veal is working out of the Pirates’ bullpen and David Patton out of the Cubs’. Nothing is guaranteed—either player could end up being returned at some point. (Toronto gave Randy Wells one inning in 2008 before returning him to the Cubs.)

Both Patton and Veal have made just one appearance to date; let’s take a look via PITCHf/x.

Pitching Profiles

I’ll start with Veal, the lefty. His reputation coming up was pretty simple—hard thrower with a plus curve. In just 28 pitches in the majors, he did indeed show those two attributes to some extent. Unfortunately, Veal Attribute No. 3 was also on display: erratic command.

Veal’s fastball appears to be a four-seamer, but with a little more tail than most. In his only outing, it sat comfortably around 92-93 mph. His curveball isn’t a big yakker, and Veal throws it in the mid-to-upper 70s. He also mixed in a pair of change-ups, which were a nice 7-8 mph slower than the heat.

About that command…perhaps it isn’t erratic. Perhaps it is consistently poor? I know, one game is just one game, but the man’s reputation does precede him.

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This is from the catcher’s view (you can click for a larger version) and shows the typical southpaw’s bottom-left to top-right dispersion of pitches. Thing is, bottom-left is below the ground and top-right is the middle of the plate. I’m all for guys working down and away, but Veal’s fastball, which should be tailing to the catcher’s right, was missing left by a foot (on more than one occasion). The results are aggregate flight paths like these:

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David Patton had a lot more success than Veal. His only outing as a Cub lasted two innings, and he started off by allowing a home run to Hunter Pence. Patton set the next six down easily. I’ve gone into some more detail on Patton at Cubs f/x, but you’ll only find the flight paths here.

Patton, like Veal, works low and away. In Patton’s debut, however, he threw strikes with both of his pitches—a four-seamer that seems to run less than Veals, but at about the same speed, and a slurvey looking slider that gave hitters fits.

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Patton’s control wasn’t perfect, but certainly not wild as Veal. His two pitch flight paths look more reasonable:

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What’s next?

The data on Patton come from his first game above Single-A. That seems to place the odds of sticking squarely against him, despite the quality of his stuff. He’s made it this far, and the Cubs are taking the long view. To date, he’s been used sparingly, so I’m anxious to see his next outing.

The same applies to Veal, who hasn’t climbed the bump since his debut. Veal has played at higher levels than Patton, but with a mixed record. His lone performance as a Pirate was consistent with his reputation, which may be unfortunate. The Pirates lack pitching depth, so Veal has a good chance to stick and grow into a LOOGY role.

References & Resources
PITCHf/x data provided by MLBAM. Pitch IDs by the author.

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