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Wednesday, March 25, 2009
30 Questions: Will Brett Myers (finally) pitch like an ace?

By Eric Karabell
ESPN.com

Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.

Which Brett Myers will show up this season?

It's easy to understand why Brett Myers doesn't seem to be getting much love in fantasy this spring, being taken in the 18th round, on average, of ESPN live drafts. Just look at his wacky numbers the past two seasons, and all the ambivalence in selecting him makes a lot more sense. Try finding another starting pitcher with his sort of career trajectory. It's not easy.

Myers once was reliable, then had a pair of brutal Aprils, forcing him to be a closer in 2007 and a minor league pitcher for a short spell the next. Each season, his ERA finished well above the 4.00 mark. Thus, it's tough to make the argument that this is someone fantasy owners can count on as a No. 3 or 4 fantasy starting pitcher.

Of course, that won't stop me from making said argument. I look at what Myers did PC (pre-closing) and what he did PD (post-demotion), and I see a strikeout-capable starting pitcher who still has growth left in him. Oh, and did I mention this is a contract year for him?

Brett Myers
Brett Myers: Tremendous talent, inconsistent pattern.
The issue of Myers' importance to the Phillies has been discussed often this spring, as the team makes it clear he's their No. 2 starter, and nowhere near moving to a bullpen or some minor league town anytime soon. In fact, staff ace Cole Hamels eagerly endorsed Myers as his possible replacement for the team's season opener April 5 against the Braves. That would mark Myers' third consecutive Opening Day assignment, by the way. Hamels has never gotten that call, although he would have this year if he didn't have a slight injury setback this spring. The Phillies have no concern about Myers anchoring the staff again, and he has performed at a high level much of the spring.

Meanwhile Myers, perfectly healthy, is aware of just how crazy the past two campaigns have been, and now he views 2009 as a chance to reestablish himself as an ace-type starter. Myers has never actually delivered ace-type numbers; he has disappointed fantasy owners before, and thus they are a bit gun-shy. For example, Myers has never won more than 14 games in a season, and his best ERA for a season is 3.72. He has managed to reach 200 big-league innings just once, and his career WHIP is 1.35. Using just that information, he does appear average.

But the Myers who dominated much of July, August and September last season wasn't average at all. In fact, while everyone gushed about how CC Sabathia carried the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs, Myers was no less critical to the Phillies' plight, or less dominant. Until getting shelled in his final two outings, Myers matched Sabathia start for start; over a 10-start span, he allowed 13 earned runs in 75 innings, a 1.56 ERA. He fanned 10 Mets in one game, then tossed a complete-game two-hitter against the Brewers. Casual fantasy owners can see he improved after being recalled, with a 3.06 post-break ERA, but Myers was far better than even those numbers suggest.

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Just seems that some potentially dominant pitchers flick a switch and realize it's time to end all the inconsistency that has defined them. Myers came to camp at least 20 pounds lighter, according to reports, and in the best shape of his career, and he's seemingly on a mission to make believers out of those who continue to knock him. He's ready to prove he can finally be that dominant starting pitcher we expected him to be, and ready to grow into the role mentally.

People who analyze baseball can look at the same player's statistics and talent and deduce totally different things. When I see Myers, I see someone who was always on the verge of taking that next step to being a reliable starting pitcher. He has the ability to strike out 200 hitters, win 15 games, keep his ERA in the low 3s … it's all there. This really could be his best season if, as Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee says, Myers doesn't fluctuate from start to start. Predicting all those things to suddenly happen in 2009 might be asking for too much, but then again, avoiding him in drafts based on numbers that can be interpreted so many different ways is a sketchy way to evaluate.

Yes, owning Myers has been a roller-coaster ride since he averaged 12.5 wins, 199 strikeouts and a 3.80 ERA during 2005-06. Those numbers hardly scream "ace," so don't view him that way, but we do project him for 174 strikeouts. Think about where Myers was being drafted heading into 2007. He was just outside the top 20 of starting pitchers. He didn't end up starting very often, as the Phillies had a distinct need for someone to save games and Myers effectively answered the call. Now the Phillies have a need for Myers to pitch 200 strong innings, take some pressure off Hamels and get back on the path it appeared the right-hander was on.

Fantasy owners can learn from how a team treats one of its own, as Myers started Game 2 of each of the three playoff series in the fall of 2008. No, he wasn't the staff ace, but he was close. And that is how I choose to evaluate Myers heading into 2009.

Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.