Myers Move Gives Indians Rotation Options
by Bob Toth
The Cleveland Indians have shocked many in the baseball world by being aggressive since the end of their disappointing 2012 season. They inked new manager Terry Francona, infielder Mark Reynolds, and outfielder Nick Swisher in the few months that have passed since the final out of the World Series. They have been linked to countless others.
While a new calendar for 2013 may have been in order, the recent free agent spending spree has continued on into the new year. On Friday, the club formally announced that it had come to terms with free agent pitcher Brett Myers on a one-year contract with a club option for 2014.
The Myers acquisition addresses yet another weakness of the Indians current roster. After Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, neither of whom wowed anyone on the field last season, the rotation was composed of many young question marks.
Can Zach McAllister adapt to the league’s offenses?
Would Corey Kluber be able to withstand a full season in the big leagues after minimal success in 2012?
Is young Trevor Bauer ready to compete for, and win, a spot in the rotation’s back end after a short trial run in Arizona last season?
Could the Indians opt for a left-hander in the rotation, David Huff, who had a strong September after a mediocre season in Columbus, rather than risk losing him because he is out of options?
Or is it possible that another recent signee, former number one draft pick Scott Kazmir, could supplant Huff as a veteran left-hander for the rotation in camp?
One of the rotation question marks seems to be answered, as in a move not directly related to the Myers acquisition, the Indians designated Jeanmar Gomez for assignment. While there is a chance he could remain in the organization, his path is yet to be determined and he may have simply run out of options in Cleveland.
Myers will come to Cleveland with an opportunity to start again after working exclusively out of the bullpen last season. Myers, though, is no stranger to being a starter.
A former number one draft pick himself back in 1999 by Philadelphia, Myers made a quick ascent to the major leagues, cracking the Phillies roster midway through the 2002 campaign as a 21 year old. In eight seasons with the Phillies, he compiled a 73-63 record with a 4.40 ERA.
During his first five big league seasons, he was 54-40. He started all but one of his 141 games in that span, throwing six complete games (two shutouts). After an 11-11 season in 2004, he went 25-15 over the next two seasons and averaged 207 innings pitched. He steadily improved upon his strikeout rate and shaved half a walk off of his nine-inning average.
Myers started the 2007 season as the Phillies’ Opening Day starter. He struck out nine but gave up a pair of home runs on the way to a no-decision against the Atlanta Braves. Five days later, he was shelled with a loss after allowing six runs in four and one-third innings against the Florida Marlins. Six days later, he suffered another loss, giving up seven runs, another pair of homers, and walking five in just three and one-third innings pitched.
A multitude of reasons, including his ineffectiveness and their bullpen problems, caused Philadelphia to move him to relief, where he worked initially as the eighth inning setup man, earning three holds in eight games.
An injury to closer Tom Gordon gave Myers his chance to close and he did, both before and after a disabled list trip of his own that cost him two months of the season with a shoulder injury. After coming off of the disabled list, he appeared in 40 games and finished 36 of them, posting a 5-5 record with 21 saves in 24 opportunities. He allowed the opposition to bat just .210 while sporting a 3.20 ERA. The Phillies were 34-6 in games that he appeared in during that span. After winning the NL East, they were swept in the NL Division Series by the Colorado Rockies.
The following season, Myers was sent back into the rotation after the Phillies acquired All-Star closer Brad Lidge from the Houston Astros. He was once again the Opening Day starter. He struggled with a plump ERA through most of the season and a lack of run support. He earned a 3-9 record, and the Phillies were 4-13 in his first 17 starts. At the time, he had allowed a league-high 24 home runs. After discussion, he was willingly demoted to the minor leagues, a choice he had to agree upon as a player with five-plus years at the major league level, to address what the team believed to be issues with his delivery and confidence.
After a month-long stint in the minors, he returned and resembled the starter of old, going 7-4 down the stretch in 13 starts. He threw two complete games, including a three-hit shutout against the New York Mets on September 5th. His 3.06 ERA in his second half was skewed by a ten-run onslaught by the Marlins in his second-to-last start of the season. He had a 1.80 ERA in the eleven starts prior to that loss. The Phillies would go on to win the World Series. Myers started Game Two.
The 2009 season was a lost one for Myers, despite being in the final year of his contract. Again named the Phillies’ Opening Day starter, he went 4-3 in ten starts before being shelved with a torn labrum in his hip. After surgery and rehab, he returned in September to the major league roster and worked out of the bullpen, earning three holds in his first four appearances before giving up five earned runs in his final four games. He ended the season with a 4-3 record and a 4.84 ERA.
In January of 2010, Myers signed on with the Astros and was slotted into their starting rotation. He was a workhorse for fourth-place Houston, pitching a career-high 223 and two-thirds innings and making all 33 of his starts. He led the team with a 14-8 record and a 3.14 ERA and earned a tenth place finish in the NL Cy Young voting, behind former Houston teammate Roy Oswalt and his replacement in Philadelphia, 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay. He significantly reduced his number of home runs allowed, giving up just two more than the previous season, despite pitching more than 150 extra innings.
The 2011 season was not quite as favorable to Myers or his Astros. The team finished last in the NL Central, and despite winning four of his final five decisions, he ended the season with a 7-14 record and a 4.46 ERA. He made 33 starts and threw 216 innings. He equaled his career-high (tying 2004 and 2005) with 31 home runs allowed.
Prior to the 2012 season, split between the Astros and the Chicago White Sox, Myers was approached about closing again. The move was necessary after the Astros sent their closer, Mark Melancon, to the Boston Red Sox in the Jed Lowrie trade. Myers accepted the role and was quoted as stating he enjoyed having the opportunity to play every day and understood the importance of staying healthy with more consistent appearances on the mound. He was 0-4 with a 3.52 ERA and 19 saves with Houston before being dealt. In the American League and in the middle of a pennant race, he was 3-4 with a 3.12 ERA and eight holds in a setup role. He held AL batters to a .238 batting average against him.
What does $7 million buy the Indians for one year?
It buys the club a potential innings eater. Myers has exceeded 190 innings pitched in six of his seven full seasons as a starting pitcher. Injuries have not been a substantial issue for him and he has only missed significant time in 2007 and 2009.
It buys the Indians versatility. If Myers is suddenly hampered by injuries or ineffectiveness, the team could easily move him into the bullpen as either a long man, a spot the team does not have dedicated to any one player, or as another late inning reliever, a position that he has shown capable of filling at several points in his career.
It buys Cleveland an eleven-year veteran pitcher with playoff experience. On a roster well known for its youth, having a guy who has seen his fair share of games (377 in the regular season, to be exact) is a worthwhile player to have. Myers has seen the postseason on three different occasions, including two World Series appearances and one 2008 championship ring.
It buys the team another character – a fiery, animated, sometimes over-the-top personality. He will motivate his teammates with his passion for the game, and probably tick off a few others along the way. Think Chris Perez, but with a longer track record and twice so extreme that it nearly resulted in legal action against him.
He is a four-pitch pitcher who had lost velocity over the last several seasons until his stint in relief last year. He began to hit the low 90’s on the radar gun again, but he was also pitching an inning or two at a time, which has historically given players a boost in their velocity.
He will give up home runs. He always has. In his career when spending the season as a starting pitcher, he has averaged 27 home runs allowed. Overall, he has allowed a home run to a right-handed batter once every 27 plate appearances, as compared to once every 35.5 versus left-handed hitters. Progressive Field is also known as a ballpark that tends to give up more home runs to lefties than righties, so Myers may be aided by the park in hopefully reducing his long ball numbers slightly.
For comparison’s sake, Jimenez allowed 25 home runs last season. McAllister, Gomez, and Josh Tomlin all would have been on pace for numbers in the mid- to high-20’s had they participated in the full 162 game schedule.
Myers, in general, handles lefties better than righties, a sometimes surprising statistic for a right-handed pitcher. Left-handers hit 14 points worse against him than their right-handed counterparts, but they do walk much more frequently, leading to a higher on-base percentage allowed. His overall numbers provide very similar frequencies in striking out, as righties strike out once every 5.25 plate appearances and lefties strike out once every 5.30 appearances, on average.
He will need run support. In 55 starts when his team has scored two runs or less, he has a 4-40 career record. In the 194 starts that his teammates have provided him with three or more runs of support, he has an 85-39 career mark with ten complete games and three shutouts.
He has somewhat better career numbers in his time in the bullpen. His career ERA, WHIP, and batting average against as a reliever are lower while producing a higher strikeout rate. In 40 career saves, he has given up just two runs (both on home runs). In save situations, he has limited the opposition to a .192 batting average and has averaged nearly four strikeouts to every one walk.
His most similar player, according to Baseball-Reference.com, is a familiar face – Jake Westbrook. Westbrook, making $8.75 million in 2013 with the St. Louis Cardinals, is also a six-time double-digit winner, a former Opening Day starter who has a 98-95 career record (compared to Myers’s 97-93), a career winning percentage of .508 (compared to .511), ERA of 4.30 (compared to 4.20), and a WHIP of 1.39 (compared to 1.33). Both have a lifetime mark of 2.9 walks per nine innings. Myers is more home run prone, giving up 0.5 more per nine innings, but strikes out batters at a much better pace, more than 2.2 per nine innings than Westbrook.
As long as Myers continues to remain healthy, as he has throughout the majority of his career, he will provide the veteran leadership and durability that the Indians’ starting rotation desperately needs. Westbrook was a key veteran rotation piece for the Indians. If Myers can provide similar production to what Cleveland saw from Westbrook during his time in the rotation, his signing will be well worth it. Myers has been successful throughout his career and there is little reason to presume 2013 would be any different.
Photo: Rich Schultz / Getty Images