I’m going to try to not get into the benefits and drawbacks of moving Brett Myers into the Closer’s role, or whether or not I think it’s a good idea (I do), since that has already been discussed a couple of times now. Instead I figured we would look at what Myers did in 2007 when he worked effectively out of the bullpen as the Phillies closer. I also wanted to look at some of the changes he’s made after that season that could possibly help him become successful in that role this time around.
Myers was able to build on a successful 2005 campaign, and served as Philadelphia’s staff ace for the 2006 season. Expectations were high for Myers heading into 2007, but he was moved to the bullpen after making only 3 ineffective starts, and took over for then-closer Tom Gordon after Gordon went on the disabled list. Myers missed more than a month due to a shoulder strain himself, but still managed to save 21 games in 24 chances. While his overall stats for the year were mediocre, he finished with a 5-5 record with a 2.87 ERA in 48 relief appearances spanning 53.1 innings. What was more impressive was the fact that his strikeout rate improved to over 10 (10.85 K/9) as a reliever for the first time in his career.
While he wasn’t among the elite closers that year he was more than serviceable in the role. After the jump we will look at what he did to be a successful closer for the Phillies that year.
First, below is a look at Myers pitch f/x type and pitch f/x velocity data for 2007 – current from Fangraphs.com.
Like many other successful relief pitchers Myers honed in on 2 pitches (his fastball and curveball), throwing them a combined 86.4% of the time while also throwing his changeup about 9% of the time, and his slider 3.4% of the time. As a starter Myers threw 4 different pitches 10% of the time or higher for every year except 2009, when he was also used in relief for a short period of time while battling injuries. His velocity in 2007 was at its highest point during the 5-year period at 92.6, which suggests that he could possibly be able to improve his velocity by a couple of MPH by moving back to the bullpen. From 2002-2006 his average fastball velocity was never higher than 91.4, so he saw an increase in velocity with the switch. The disclaimer here would be that his velocity has steadily declined each subsequent year after that season, so the possibility of his velocity reaching its 2007 level again is unlikely, but could improve a few MPH from last season based upon the improvement made the last time he switched roles. Myers bread-and-butter has been his curveball, and both his curveball and slider were above average pitches the last two seasons which help offset his below average fastball.
Since the 2007 season Myers has continued to diversify his repertoire, which could also help him offset diminished velocity. Over the last two seasons with the Astros Myers has thrown a heavy 2-seam fastball, a cutter, and has also thrown his slider much more often than in previous years. All of these weapons could help him keep hitters off balance in the closer’s role this season if he is able to control multiple pitches in the short outings.
In conclusion, whether you like the move or not, credit Jeff Luhnow for thinking outside the box and trying something different. The importance of this season probably lies more with analyzing and finding out what the Astros have in younger talent, and the Astros have plenty of candidates for the rotation that don’t have a lot more to prove in the minors. Moving Myers to the bullpen allows them to evaluate some of these guys and help determine who seems likely to help the club in the future. Worst case scenario seems to be that Myers can’t adjust to the role this time around and ends up back in the rotation where he would have been in the first place.