Checking in with Brett Myers

Brett Myers is forever emblazoned in Phillies history as the pitcher who took a line drive off of his coconut and pitched a complete game anyway got the final out of the regular season in 2007, clinching the team’s first post-season berth since 1993. His tenure in Philadelphia was a rocky ride from the expectations as a first-round draft pick in 1999 (in the same class as Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets, and Barry Zito), to out-dueling Mark Prior in his Major League debut in 2002, to the domestic abuse incident in June 2006, to a switch from starter to closer and a shoulder injury in ’07, to a torn labrum in ’09, to his first taste of free agency during last off-season.

Myers’ pitching career as a Phillie is best summed up as “what could have been”. There was never any doubt that he had the stuff to be one of the dominant pitchers in baseball, but he was never able to put it together after a terrific 2005 season. He had displayed good stuff and more importantly good control during his four-year stint in the Minors from ages 18 to 21. However, in his first three years in the Majors, his strikeout rate left a lot to be desired and he had trouble finding the plate at times.

In 2005, he led an otherwise uninspiring starting rotation in ERA and found a way to miss bats when he added a cutter to his repertoire. He averaged under six strikeouts per nine innings in ’04; that number ballooned to 8.7 in ’05. Additionally, he finally fell under three walks per nine. His 3.43 SIERA was 11th-best in the Majors among pitchers who accrued at least 150 innings of work. Phillies fans were envisioning a one-two punch of Myers and mega-prospect Cole Hamels for years to come.

While Myers kept the success going in 2006, a shaky first three starts of the ’07 season and the health of Tom Gordon led the Phillies to convert Myers into a set-up guy and eventually a closer. He thrived out of the bullpen, compiling a 2.61 ERA while converting six saves and three holds in 18 appearances before a late May shoulder injury sidelined him for two months. He returned at the end of July and it was as if nothing had changed. He made 30 more appearances, compiling a 3.03 ERA and converting 15 saves. The season culminated in storybook fashion when Myers threw his signature knee-buckling curve to freeze Wily Mo Pena for the last out of Game #162. Myers tossed his glove as high into the air as he could, for the Phillies were going to the playoffs.

The Phillies were quickly dispatched by the eventual NL Champion Colorado Rockies in the Division Series, but the Phillies would make a return to the post-season. Myers did not play an integral role in the team’s regular season success, but he made a name for himself in the playoffs for peculiar reasons. Against the vaunted C.C. Sabathia of the Milwaukee Brewers, Myers saw a whopping 19 pitches in two at-bats. In the first at-bat, he drew a nine-pitch walk and was on base when Shane Victorino hit his never-to-be-forgotten grand slam over the left field fence. Myers flied out to right-center but not before forcing Sabathia to toss another ten pitches. In two at-bats, Myers by himself had forced Sabathia to throw what is about 20% of a typical pitcher’s workload.

Myers’ offensive prowess was on display in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers as well. Against Chad Billingsley, Myers collected two hits in two at-bats and drove in three runs against the young right-hander. In his third at-bat against James McDonald, Myers weakly dribbled the ball down the third base line for his third hit of the game. In what would be his last hurrah as a Phillie, Myers tossed a quality start in Game 2 of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

2009 would prove to be a struggle as Myers battled injuries and ineffectiveness. In his ten starts before hitting the disabled list, Myers could only muster a 4.66 ERA. However, he worked extremely hard to return to full health and threw out of the bullpen in the final month of the season to mixed reviews. He also made two post-season appearances but was ineffective. Given his age, price, and history of inconsistency, the Phillies decided to part ways with Myers after the ’09 season.

Current Astros GM and former Phillies GM Ed Wade picked up Myers on a one-year deal. The 29-year-old right-hander has been one of the very few bright spots on a depressing Houston roster. Myers currently sports a 3.67 ERA and, while he doesn’t have the strikeout stuff he used to have with the Phillies, he has been inducing ground balls at a more frequent rate — not a bad idea with the Crawford Boxes within arm’s reach. He has been a workhorse for the Astros, averaging nearly seven innings per start. It is quite depressing to think about just how bad the 14-26 Astros would be without Myers.

Back in January, I wrote about why, despite Myers’ domestic abuse incident and public tirades, I would be rooting for Brett in his new hometown of Houston. I’m glad to report that he’s doing just fine. And hey, since there has been talk about the Astros cutting salary in the form of trading Roy Oswalt and/or Lance Berkman, maybe the Phillies could re-acquire Myers. He is earning only $3.1 million on the season, which would mean that he would cost between $1-2 million for the remainder of 2010. He also has a cheap $2 million mutual option for 2011. Myers would also be cheap in the terms of talent relinquished in a trade, since the Astros will need to require Myers’ new suitor to take on salary.