The decline of Brett Myers by the numbers

A few weeks ago, in my fluke-or-not series, I assessed that Brett Myers’ performance was merely a fluke and that it would probably turn around.  I’m not quite ready to assume that he’s done after all, but his numbers have gotten uglier and I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t more to this.

There are certainly still indicators that he has been unlucky.  His HR/Flyball is still at an impossibly high 20.2%.  I’m pretty sure that the average major league hitter couldn’t do much better than that in a homerun derby.  That number should be lower, and even though Myers’ career HR/Flyball is a very high 15.5%, pitchers supposedly have little control over this statistic, and a pitcher playing half his time at CBP should expect that number to be around 12.5%.  His BABIP is only at .307, which is only .009 higher than his career BABIP.  His K/BB is down to 2.0 now, despite being around 3.0-3.1 for the last three years.  That seems mostly due to a decrease in BB than an increase in K. 

The question of how much of Myers’ ERA can be attributed to luck depends on what you consider luck.  His ERA itself is at 5.84.  There are a couple typical measures of ERA that try to eliminate luck.  One is FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching); the other is QERA (Quick ERA).  FIP uses K/9, BB/9, and HR/9.  By this measure, Myers’ ERA should be 5.84.  That’s exact—no luck according to that measure, just terrible pitching.  QERA uses K%, UIBB%, and GB%.  According to this measure, Myers’ ERA should be 4.38.  According to that measure, his decline has mostly been due to luck.  The key difference is whether pitchers control HR/FB.  So, does Myers control his?

 

The conversation throughout much of this season has been whether Myers is throwing slower.  Fangraphs.com now keeps track of pitch speed.  Myers has been averaging 89.9 MPH on his fastball this year, down from 91.4 MPH during 2005 and 2006, the last two years that he has been starter.  That is a statistically significant difference, no matter how I calculate it.  Some have said that maybe he is hurt, which certainly is possible—he’s been hurt before—but Dubee was quoted in the paper a month or two ago saying that he thought the problem was that Myers wasn’t throwing long toss between starts.  Magically, Myers’ speed went up significantly the next start.  It does seem from looking at Gameday during games that his speed varies a lot from fastball to fastball, and so it’s possibly a mechanical issue.  Perhaps he’s hurt, or perhaps it’s mental. 

Certainly, the slower fastball might have something to do with the higher HR/Flyball.  However, I’m not sure if that would make flyballs more likely to leave the park rather than make hitters more likely to hit flyballs.  His groundball rate is at 44.2% this year, definitely lower than his career 47.0% rate, but his rates for 2005-2007 have only been at 46.3%, 45.6%, and 45.8%.  His groundball rate is therefore lower this year, but probably not by a statistically significant amount.

If Myers’ problems are mental, then I would guess that his splits would show this.  There would probably be situations where he is more likely to be vulnerable.

Brett’s ERA is 3.81 at home, and 8.18 on the road this year.  In his career, he has only a 4.23/4.75 disadvantage on the road.  The reason for this does seem to be more than bad luck.  His K% is 13.25% on the road this year, despite a career 18.19% rate.  His K% at home this year is 25.45% and in his career it’s been 20.78%.  He’s also walking more batters on the road than before too—9.40% UIBB this year as compared with 8.14% in his career, but his home UIBB% is also a bit higher than usual (8.48% vs. 7.55% career).  It does seem somewhat notable that he is striking out half as many batters on the road as at home.  The difference of K/BB at home vs. on the road this year really demonstrates the problem: 3.00 at home and 1.41 on the road.  Historically, these ratios have only been 2.75 and 2.24.

Checking Myers’ performance against lefties and righties produced a few interesting results.  He’s walking more lefties than ever (12.89% as compared with 9.98% in his career) and he’s walking fewer righties (5.15% for 2008 vs. 5.88% career).  His homerun rate does seem up on both sides.  He seems to be having trouble striking out righties: only 16.31% this year as compared with 19.45% in his career.  He’s actually striking out more lefties than before by a little bit.

Checking Myers performance with men on vs. when the bases were empty did yield a few significant results.  He is certainly walking more people with the bases empty than before: 8.99% vs. 7.06% in his career, and with men on, he is essentially performing at his career rate.  His K% is way down with men on base this year—only 15.2% as compared with a career 18.2% rate.  His K% with bases empty is 22.1%, even higher than his 20.36% career rate.  His HR rate is up both ways, but a bit more so with bases empty.

The most notable split, outside of perhaps the home/away split, is Myers’ 1st inning ERA—which is 11.60.  His ERA thereafter is 5.10.  In his career, his ERA is only 0.65 lower after the 1st inning as compared with before.  His peripherals are consistent with this difference.  He is giving up homeruns at an astronomical rate in the 1st inning this year: 11.6% of batters are hitting homeruns, and only 3.8% thereafter.  In his career, there has been no difference between his HR% during and after the 1st inning.  He’s also had trouble striking people out in the 1st inning.  Only 10.5% of 1st inning batters strike out—as compared with 16.9% in the 1st inning in his career.  His post-1st inning K% this year is 21% as compared with 20% in his career.

Overall, it seems that my main observations are as follows:

1)      Myers’ fastball is about 1.5 MPH slower this year than last time he was a starter

2)      Myers’ home ERA is less than half of his road ERA—inconsistent with his career

3)      Myers’ 1st inning ERA is 11.60: about 2.5 times as high as his career 1st inning ERA

4)      After the 1st inning, his ERA is only 5.10, and his peripherals indicate that should be lower.

5)      His 1st inning problems seem to be mostly due to an explosively high HR rate and an abnormally low K rate

This seems to indicate something relative to conditioning.  As I only have data on Myers’ average fastball, I don’t know if he is throwing slower all game or just in the 1st inning, but the higher homerun rate and scarcity of strikeouts seem to indicate that.  His problems on the road seem to suggest he’s doing something different at home as compared with on the road.  The 1st inning comparisons on the road and at home don’t really have enough data to draw conclusions—but he’s given up 8 runs in 8 1st innings at home, as compared with 14 runs in 9 1st innings on the road.

I’m not really sure what to do with him.  His peripherals looked a lot better during his struggles earlier in the year, but as his BABIP has stabilized to a more reasonable level, his peripherals have started to decline enough to keep his ERA high.  It does seem like he’s not getting any better, this is a playoff race, and we’re halfway through the season.  I’m firmly against converting him into a reliever at this point.  I think that his success as a reliever was largely based on small sample sizes.  He was striking out more people and keeping more flyballs in the yard, but I’m pretty sure that his current problems as a starter may be caused by his transformation into a reliever last year.  Myers took a while to turn into a good starter after struggling for a few years and I think he needs to relearn how to start.  Some of this may be an injury, but last season’s transformation into a reliever certainly could have caused that too.  His value at a starter was higher in 2005-2006 than his value as a reliever in 2007—and we already have a lot of options in the bullpen already. 

He may be due to be sent down to the minors for some work, and maybe he can turn things around down there.  I’m not sure I would skip him, since I’d like Hamels to start against the Mets this weekend rather than pushing him up against the Braves on Thursday, but J.A. Happ or someone else from the minors could be an option.  The other option is to give Myers another shot.  If so, he’s going to have to control himself on the road in Atlanta Thursday, especially in the 1st inning against Chipper Jones and maybe Mark Teixeira.

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