Knuckleballs

Unpredictable, rare, and occasionally effective…but always entertaining.

Brett Myers

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8th in the league in ERA, between Jaime Garcia and David Price, is Brett Myers.  This is the same Brett Myers who has never posted an ERA below 3.72 (currently 2.76).  Then there’s this crazy stat:

Brett Myers’ career-year continued last night with seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Brewers and he also made some history by becoming just the seventh pitcher since 1920 to throw six or more innings in each of his first 30 starts.

The previous six: Bob Gibson (1968 and 1969), Fergie Jenkins (1972), Tom Seaver (1974), Steve Carlton (1980), Jack McDowell (1993), Curt Schilling (2002).

If there ever was a “one of these things is not like the others” situation, this is it.  So the question is easy: who is this imposter and what did he do to Brett Myers what, if anything, is Myers doing differently?

Here are a couple of tables to show his numbers over his career:

Season Team W L ERA G GS SV IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG
2002 Phillies 4 5 4.25 12 12 0 72 4.25 3.63 1.38 0.264
2003 Phillies 14 9 4.43 32 32 0 193 6.67 3.54 0.93 0.274
2004 Phillies 11 11 5.52 32 31 0 176 5.93 3.17 1.59 0.283
2005 Phillies 13 8 3.72 34 34 0 215.1 8.69 2.84 1.30 0.241
2006 Phillies 12 7 3.91 31 31 0 198 8.59 2.86 1.32 0.258
2007 Phillies 5 7 4.33 51 3 21 68.2 10.88 3.54 1.18 0.240
2008 Phillies 10 13 4.55 30 30 0 190 7.72 3.08 1.37 0.269
2009 Phillies 4 3 4.84 18 10 0 70.2 6.37 2.93 2.29 0.271
2010 Astros 13 7 2.76 31 31 0 212 7.30 2.46 0.68 0.247

Season Team BABIP LOB% FIP GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB xFIP
2002 Phillies 0.268 75.6% 5.46 1.61 19.6% 49.6% 30.9% 14.1% 15.5% 4.82
2003 Phillies 0.316 72.9% 4.22 1.81 22.5% 49.9% 27.6% 10.1% 11.9% 4.06
2004 Phillies 0.303 68.5% 5.18 1.4 19.3% 47.1% 33.6% 12.8% 15.9% 4.40
2005 Phillies 0.289 77.9% 4.06 1.51 23.1% 46.3% 30.6% 11.4% 16.8% 3.36
2006 Phillies 0.309 76.1% 4.14 1.26 18.3% 45.6% 36.1% 9.4% 14.3% 3.64
2007 Phillies 0.320 73.3% 3.75 1.31 19.2% 45.8% 35.0% 8.1% 14.5% 3.28
2008 Phillies 0.311 72.6% 4.52 1.45 20.4% 47.1% 32.5% 11.3% 15.6% 3.87
2009 Phillies 0.273 83.1% 6.14 1.36 18.4% 47.1% 34.5% 11.7% 23.4% 4.32
2010 Astros 0.297 78.0% 3.31 1.44 16.8% 49.1% 34.1% 7.0% 7.4% 3.72

Not much has changed.  He’s stranding a few more runners than we might expect, and his walks have gone down to a career-low, so that helps.  His line drive rate is down slightly, and he’s converting those to ground balls.  But the big change is in his home run rates, which currently sit at 0.68 home runs per nine innings and 7.4% fly balls becoming home runs.  That’s the entire difference; those rates are half of his career numbers and one-third of what they were in 2009.  Even stranger, he’s given up only 4 home runs at home while allowing 12 on the road.

So we’ve figured out why’s he better, now let’s see if there’s a how.  Here’s a table of his pitch selection over his career:

Season Team FB SL CT CB CH SF
2002 Phillies 63.3% (90.9) 26.9% (78.6) 9.7% (83.8)
2003 Phillies 56.4% (90.9) 0.1% (82.0) 29.8% (78.6) 13.7% (82.8)
2004 Phillies 60.4% (91.0) 0.2% (83.0) 26.6% (78.8) 12.8% (83.1)
2005 Phillies 58.2% (91.4) 4.7% (85.4) 8.7% (87.3) 20.6% (79.5) 7.8% (83.9) 0.0% (87.0)
2006 Phillies 50.5% (91.4) 15.5% (83.8) 5.8% (87.1) 21.2% (79.1) 6.7% (83.9) 0.4% (85.4)
2007 Phillies 47.5% (92.1) 12.5% (84.9) 0.4% (87.4) 26.6% (78.9) 12.5% (85.4) 0.4% (87.8)
2008 Phillies 48.2% (90.1) 18.4% (84.5) 0.7% (87.5) 23.3% (77.5) 9.2% (83.6) 0.2% (86.9)
2009 Phillies 52.0% (89.3) 18.2% (84.5) 24.3% (77.6) 5.1% (83.5) 0.4% (85.8)
2010 Astros 44.0% (89.4) 27.9% (83.5) 20.4% (76.4) 7.7% (82.7)

It appears that he’s been slider-heavy, which is good choice because it’s been really hard to hit.  His curveball hasn’t been too bad either.  His two breaking pitches, thrown more than 48 percent of the time, are 28 runs better than average.  I looked to see if he had changed when in the count he’s throwing these pitches, but it looks like in every count, he’s throwing more sliders.

Count Career 2010 Career 2010 Career 2010 Career 2010
FB% FB% SL% SL% CB% CB% CH% CH%
0 – 0 67% 57% 8% 24% 19% 15% 5% 4%
1 – 0 55% 46% 10% 28% 19% 14% 14% 12%
2 – 0 78% 64% 9% 29% 5% 3% 7% 4%
3 – 0 94% 89% 2% 11% 0% 3%
0 – 1 43% 37% 15% 33% 24% 21% 14% 10%
1 – 1 38% 33% 16% 36% 27% 19% 15% 12%
2 – 1 59% 51% 12% 30% 16% 7% 12% 11%
3 – 1 79% 63% 8% 25% 7% 4% 5% 8%
0 – 2 37% 34% 10% 18% 39% 41% 10% 6%
1 – 2 37% 26% 11% 25% 40% 44% 9% 6%
2 – 2 36% 27% 12% 28% 41% 37% 8% 8%
3 – 2 61% 38% 13% 38% 20% 16% 6% 8%

Starting to get a little frustrated because I don’t have an explanation other than “he might have better command of his slider and is throwing it a lot more as a result.”  Checking the Pitchf/x data from TexasLeaguers, there’s almost no difference in any of the analyses available from the 2008-2009 seasons and 2010.  To see if hitters are helping him, I looked at the plate discipline numbers:

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2002 Phillies 13.0% 69.4% 45.7% 39.7% 88.6% 82.8% 58.0% 60.6% 7.7%
2003 Phillies 25.1% 65.8% 46.9% 53.9% 88.9% 80.2% 53.6% 61.2% 9.1%
2004 Phillies 17.0% 69.9% 47.7% 55.2% 87.0% 82.3% 58.2% 63.5% 8.2%
2005 Phillies 18.6% 65.3% 44.9% 43.8% 86.7% 78.9% 56.3% 60.7% 9.4%
2006 Phillies 23.8% 63.0% 44.6% 51.6% 87.8% 78.7% 53.2% 61.7% 9.4%
2007 Phillies 24.7% 59.6% 42.4% 54.2% 86.6% 77.3% 50.7% 61.4% 9.6%
2008 Phillies 23.3% 61.4% 44.1% 53.8% 88.8% 80.4% 54.5% 61.0% 8.5%
2009 Phillies 21.2% 63.3% 41.7% 65.0% 91.3% 84.4% 48.6% 53.3% 6.5%
2010 Astros 30.4% 61.5% 44.4% 65.7% 88.5% 80.0% 45.2% 58.7% 8.8%

Now we have some confirmation.  He’s getting more swings outside of the zone and more contact on those pitches.  Pitches that aren’t strikes are difficult to hit hard.  If he’s throwing more sliders and curveballs (down in the zone one would think), it would make sense that he’s getting more ground balls and giving up fewer home runs.

One more thing I wanted to check; what were the expectations for Myers coming into the season?  Houston signed him to a one-year contract for 3.1 million dollar contract before this season, so it’s safe to say teams didn’t expect too much from him.  Here are what several reputable projection systems saw from Myers, along with his 2010 stat line.

W L ERA IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9
Bill James 9 10 4.37 171 7.74 3.11 1.42
CHONE 5 9 4.79 126 7.57 3.07 1.50
Marcel 6 6 4.55 99 7.55 3.27 1.45
Fans (18) 8 8 4.44 148 7.54 2.98 1.40
ZiPS 6 8 4.83 117.3 7.98 3.07 1.61
2010 13 7 2.76 212 7.30 2.46 0.68

All of the projection systems are very similar, and they all indicate that the big difference is the home run rate.  This type of change from a pitcher nine years into his career is almost unheard-of, but it has happened.  2011 will be a real test whether or not this is a fluke.  I have to be honest and say that I haven’t the slightest idea; I want to believe Myers is doing something to stop allowing home runs, but my head says a significant portion of it is completely random.

Lastly, from Aaron’s post linked earlier:

Myers put himself in position to potentially make a lot of money back on the open market, but opted against another crack at free agency by signing a two-year, $23 million extension with the Astros last month. He’ll make $7 million next season and $11 million in 2012, with the Astros giving him a $2 million signing bonus and holding a $10 million option or $3 million buyout for 2013.

Which would be great if the Astros were going to be anywhere close to good in the next 3 years.  But they won’t.  And who knows if Myers will repeat this season’s performance?  In my opinion, when teams were calling this summer about Oswalt, the Astros should have been throwing Myers’ name in every discussion.  Even when the Astros find a diamond in the rough…well, they suck.

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Written by Dan Hennessey

September 20, 2010 at 11:51 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Again, really good job out of me not making a “Brett Myers even threw strikes to his wife in 2006” joke.

    Dan Hennessey

    September 20, 2010 at 11:56 PM


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