Brett Myers: can he make a comeback?


The articles by David and Dying Quail have covered topics like FIP, x-FIP, strike out rates, and the like for Brett Myers.  I'm not going to try and add to what they've said.  However, it seems to me that the most significant question about Myers' performance prospects for the Astros is his ability to recover from the hip surgery last season.  I'm not going to pretend to have any medical knowledge (and it's been a long time since I stayed at a Holliday Inn).  So, to satisfy my curiosity, I will discuss what has been written about Myers' injury issues last season.

In early going last season, Myers was a starter in the Phillies rotation, and despite a HR propensity, he pitched fairly well, with the second best ERA+ on a rotation which had started slowly.  In late May, Myers felt significant pain in the hip and leg which led the Phillies to shut him down and send him for a MRI.  Myers was diagnosed with a torn and frayed labrum muscle in his hip, accompanied by a bone spur.  He underwent hip surgery by the hip specialist who had performed a similar surgical procedure on Chase Utley.  Myers later admitted that the hip had been causing him pain for several years, but that it had become particularly severe when he pitched this year.  Early on he figured it wasn't serious because he could walk and run without pain.  But the pain had become severe as he pitched and caused him to loose his command, particularly in pitching from the stretch, and he attributed some of his recent HRs to poor location as he pitched around the injury.

Chase Utley had the most similar surgery, and the prognosis was that he couldn't begin any baseball activity for 3 or 4 months and couldn't resume normal baseball play for six months.  However, Utley beat the schedule and was playing in 3 months.  A-Rod had a similar hip problem this past year and came back within two months.  However, A-Rod elected to have a hybrid surgery in which only part of the injury was addressed by surgery during the season, with additional surgery to complete the correction planned for the off-season.  This path was  chosen in order allow him to return to action as quickly as possible.  Also, doctors told Myers that the recovery time for a pitcher would take longer than for a position player.  A pitcher places more stress and force upon his hips and legs than a position player. 

With an expected recovery time of at least six months or more, Myers was expected to be out for the remainder of the season. At the time of the surgery, Will Carroll doubted whether he could play during the season " it’s so tough that I can’t see a way, even if he has the A-Rod surgery, to have him come back."  However, he worked hard, trying to come back early.  He completed successful rehab starts in the minors in late August and early September.  He pitched well in his rehab starts, with a velocity of 92 mph and good results.  When he returned to the big league roster as a relief pitcher in September, he began pitching strongly with four straight scoreless appearances in which he allowed only 1 hit in 4-1/3 innings..  However, by the end of the month, he began to suffer from a strain in his lat muscle near his shoulder, leading some to speculate that he may have returned to quickly and changed his mechanics due to the injury.  Myers had been very effective prior to the strained lat muscle.

Myers was placed on the roster for the NLDS, and pitched 2/3 of an inning.  HIs control problems in that outing led Phillies GM Amauro to conclude that Myers needed more time to rest from the shoulder strain and he was removed from the NLCS roster.  After successful simulated game outings, Myers was added to the World Series roster.  Amauro remembered that Myers had pitched one of his better games early in the season at the new Yankee stadium.  Myers had a farily uneventful World Series, pitching one inning, giving up a HR and striking out two.

Unlike Mike Hampton, Myers doesn't have a reputation for being injury prone, and, in fact, he is normally regarded as durable.  On May 29, after Myers was pulled from a game with the "balky hip," beat writer Scott Lauber wrote:

The irony, of course, is that Myers is never injured. He has been on the disabled list only once during his eight-year major-league career (in 2007 for a strained right shoulder). Just the other day, in fact, I was talking to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, and we agreed that Myers would get a big contract on the free-agent market because of his durability.

I'll have some quotes and my concluding comments below the jump.

 

Shortly after he left the May 27 game because of the hip pain, Myers described the effect of the injury on his pitching:

"For the past couple of years it’s bothered me, but it hasn't been that bad. It was hard to put pressure on my back leg out of the stretch," Myers explained after the game, Wednesday. "It usually will come on one pitch and go away for a while. I felt it probably in the second inning in warm-ups, and it kind of went away. I felt it again in the third inning, and in the stretch, it got pretty bad. I was going to try to get through it and keep the ball down. But stuff started flattening out in the stretch. You've just got to try to power through it."

Myers didn't want to undergo surgery during the season and considered taking cortisone shots and pitching through the pain, but he listened up when the doctor told him he could face hip replacement surgery in the future if he tried to put off the surgery:

"When he told me today that there's a chance, if I do the cortisone shot, you could mess the labrum up more, wear the cartilage down more. A cortisone shot may relieve some of the pain and pressure, but it's not going to relieve the popping and the clicking and the locking up of the hip. I was like, 'I can get through that. I've went through that pretty much the whole year.' But he also told me, 'You can hurt your arm possibly because you'll lose strength in your hip, and you won't be using your lower half to throw the ball.' I'm like, 'That makes sense, too. Is there any way away from surgery?' He's like, 'No, regardless of whether you finish pitching this year or get it now, it's going to have to be done, and if you tear it even more or mess it up even more, in five or 10 years, there's a possibility of a hip replacement.' So, I was like, 'Uh, can we go now?' I mean, it's not painful to walk or anything like that, so I didn't think it was anything serious."

And Will Carroll discusses the shoulder strain which arose in late September:

The biggest concern for any pitcher returning from injury is a change in mechanics that leads to additional or even just different stresses on the arm. A strain is usually caused by fatigue, but can also be caused by overexertion. Myers is coming off a hip surgery that no pitcher has had, so he was in uncharted territory from the get-go. The Phillies believe they caught this early, but there's no way to tell if Myers can make it back. They're keyed to the postseason, but they'd like to see at least a cameo before putting him on their playoff roster.

My thoughts?  This sounds like Myers has a pretty decent chance of recovering and pitching closer to his old form.  The games early last season probably were not indicative of Myers' ability, given the increased pain from the hip injury.  Myers' performance at the end of last season also probably was not indicative of his ability, because he returned to the team after surgery on an aggressive schedule. Returning to the starter role next season should give Myers more time to recover from serious surgery, and probably is more in line with the expected time required to return to playing baseball.  Admittedly, the fact that Myers may have changed his mechanics and strained muscles around his shoulder after his return in September is troublesome, but as Carroll notes, the Phillies think they caught that issue in time.  Hopefully, that issue is not a lasting one, and Myers and Arnsberg can pay close attention to his mechanics in the spring.  That fact that Myers has been quite durable prior the hip injury has to be a positive factor for returning to his prior level of performance.

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