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Friday, May 27, 2011
The unpredictable career of Brett Myers

By Bill Baer

Brett Myers' career has been a tumultuous ride. In his first three years in the majors with the Phillies, Myers -- who starts Friday night for the Astros -- posted a 4.84 ERA and appeared to be a bust, having been chosen in the first round of the 1999 draft. In 2005 and '06, he appeared to figure himself out, compiling a 3.81 ERA, and he'd become a quality, reliable arm in the Phillies' rotation.

In 2007, the Philadelphia bullpen was in shambles. Tom Gordon succumbed to injury and the Phillies had no experienced closer to take his place. Myers, after two disastrous starts to begin the season, agreed to move from the rotation to the closer's role to help his team. However, after some initial success, he landed on the disabled list when he strained his right shoulder in Florida on May 23. He did not return until July 28. As a reliever that year, he yielded a 2.87 ERA and converted 21 of 24 save opportunities, providing stability in the bullpen.

Brett Myers
Brett Myers takes a 1-4 record into Friday's matchup against the Diamondbacks.
Myers was on the mound on the last day of the '07 season, as he struck out Wily Mo Pena of the Nationals to clinch the NL East division title. In celebration, Myers threw his glove up in the air and waited to embrace catcher Chris Coste. It was an iconic moment in Philadelphia sports history as it ended the Phillies' 13-year playoff drought. He even celebrated with the fans who stayed to congratulate their heroic baseball team, spraying champagne into the stands.

Myers returned to the rotation in 2008, but was not his usual self. He was healthy the entire season, but finished with a 4.55 ERA and posted the lowest strikeout rate of any full season in his career.

The following season was not any easier, as Myers' season appeared to be finished when he needed hip surgery after his May 27 start against the Marlins. Always the diligent worker, Myers worked hard and vowed to return to help the team clinch another postseason berth. He did return, much to everyone's surprise, on Sept. 5 and pitched out of the bullpen. Unfortunately, he was not effective. In the postseason, he had one disappointing outing in the NLDS against the Rockies when he walked two in two-thirds of an inning. That prompted the Phillies to leave him off the NLCS roster entirely. His last stint with the Phillies came in Game 3 of the World Series against the New York Yankees, when he struck out Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter, but allowed a home run to Hideki Matsui.

A free agent going into the 2010 season, the Phillies and Myers decided to part ways. Interest in Myers was muted; he eventually signed with the Astros on a one-year, $5.1 million deal. In a shocking turn of events that is on par for his career, Myers emerged as one of the best starters in baseball, pitching 223 2/3 innings with a 3.14 ERA and his best K/BB ratio as a starter since 2006. The performance earned him a two-year extension with the Astros worth $23 million.

Do you feel like you've been on a rollercoaster reading about Myers' baseball career? I did not even mention his domestic abuse incident in Boston during the '06 season or his confrontation with journalist Sam Carchidi in '07.

That brings us to today. Myers currently sits with a 5.00 ERA, a vast change from last year. Last weekend, he was victimized for two home runs by the amazing Jose Bautista, the 11th and 12th home runs he has allowed in 63 innings. Going forward, Astros fans should expect Myers to be more like the starter he was with the Phillies, as opposed to the one they saw last year. His strikeout rate (7.0 K/9) is similar to last year's, but the walks have come much more frequently (3.1 BB/9). Furthermore, he is inducing more fly balls (up about 7 percent) and fewer groundballs (down more than 5 percent).

There is reason to believe he has been unlucky thus far, as he has a .329 BABIP (batting average on balls in play). Pitcher BABIP tends to hover around .300, as pitchers have little control on the conversion of batted balls into outs. Looking at BABIP for various batted ball types, it appears Myers has been unfortunate on all three variables:

Groundballs: Myers .291 (NL average: .234)
Fly balls: Myers .159 (NL average: .136)
Line drives: .808 (NL average: .715)

If we use the 2010 National League average on Myers' current batted ball distribution, we come up with five fewer groundball hits, nine fewer fly ball hits, and three fewer line drive hits. The difference of 17 total hits represents over 25 percent of his total hits allowed thus far. The bad BABIP fortune could mean the difference between Myers with a 3.50 ERA and Myers with a 5.00 ERA.

Unfortunately, Myers also plays with one of baseball's worst defenses. The Astros enter Friday ranked 29th in defensive efficiency at .687, per Baseball Prospectus. Their park-adjusted defensive efficiency (PADE) is also the worst mark in baseball. PADE tells us the Astros converted 5 percent fewer balls in play into outs than we would expect after adjusting for the relative ease or difficulty given the ballparks in which they have played.

While Myers' fastball and slider have each slowed by more than 1 mph from last season, it is the defense that will dictate his future success more than anything or anyone else. It is just one more chapter in the always interesting career of Brett Myers.

Bill Baer runs the Crashburn Alley blog on the Phillies. Follow him on Twitter: @CrashburnAlley.