A tale of two pitchers

We are 1/4th of the way through the season, and I thought I would take a look at two pitchers a number of people are unsure about, namely Ted Lilly and Brett Myers.

Ted Lilly

As he has been the past several years, Ted Lilly is once again proving himself a valuable starting pitcher. With good health (200+ innings past two years), solid strikeout abilities (around a 7.75 K/9), and support from the high-octane Cubs offense (leading to 15 or more wins each of the last three seasons), Lilly has established himself as a solid, yet unspectacular starter. He’s not your number one guy, but he works well as a number two or number three guy in any rotation, providing depth.

+------+-----------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----------+
| Year | Team      | IP    | W  | ERA  | WHIP |	K   | LIPS ERA |
+------+-----------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----------+
| 2006 | Blue Jays | 181.2 | 15	| 4.31 | 1.43 | 160 |     4.24 |
| 2007 | Cubs	   | 207   | 15	| 3.83 | 1.14 | 174 |     3.88 |
| 2008 | Cubs	   | 204.2 | 17	| 4.09 | 1.23 |	184 |     3.73 |
| 2009 | Cubs	   | 57.1  |  5	| 3.77 | 1.10 |  47 |     3.75 |
+------+-----------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----------+

Right now Lilly’s ERA sits at a pretty 3.77, which I find surprising considering the ten home runs he has allowed already. Let me repeat that: 10 home runs! That means he is on pace for about 40 home runs allowed, which although is not single season record breaking, is top five in the league. Interestingly enough, the name of the record holder for most home runs allowed in the NL in a single season is a name every fantasy baseballer should be familiar with: Jose Lima.

+------+-----------+------+------+--------+--------+-------+------+
| Year | Team      | K/9  | BB/9 | OF FB% | HR/FB% | BABIP | LOB% |
+------+-----------+------+------+--------+--------+-------+------+
| 2006 | Blue Jays | 7.93 | 4.01 |   33.7 |   14.1 | 0.300 | 73.8 |
| 2007 | Cubs	   | 7.57 | 2.39 |   43.3 |   10.9 | 0.272 | 74.1 |
| 2008 | Cubs	   | 8.09 | 2.81 |   38.6 |   13.9 | 0.283 | 76.0 |
| 2009 | Cubs	   | 7.38 | 2.20 |   46.9 |   13.3 | 0.254 | 77.6 |
+------+-----------+-------+-----+--------+--------+-------+------+

Contrary to what you might be thinking, Lilly has not been giving up more home runs per fly ball; his HR/FB percentage sits at about 13 percent, which is in line with his career average. Instead he has been allowing flyballs at a ridiculous 47 percent rate, well above last year’s 39 percent. Whenever a notorious fly ball pitcher sees a substantial increase in their fly balls allowed, concern should arise.

image
Loose pants are a necessity with those mechanics. (Icon/SMI)

Unfortunately, I have no way of telling if the increased fly ball rate will be sustained or if it is a fluke. Most likely Lilly’s fly ball rate will regress towards his career average, which will lead to fewer home runs allowed. This will have a positive impact on his ERA.

Working out the math, it comes to about one-and-a-half less home runs allowed. I believe the home run is worth on average about 1.4 runs, so saving the theoretical 1.5 home runs will save Lilly 2.1 earned runs, which is close enough to two. The two saved runs equate to 30 points coming off his ERA.

On the negative side, there is only one major sign that points towards Lilly’s ERA rising. Right now he is the lucky owner of a .254 BABIP, one that is surely to regress upwards into the .280′s. He would have allowed six more hits if his BABIP were at .285, and on average his ERA would then rise half a point to 4.30.

Lilly is striking out slightly less batters than usual, but he also is walking less as well. Perhaps this is the sign of a maturing pitcher, or maybe it is simply random variation a quarter of the way through the season. Whatever the case, assuming these indicative stats regress to the mean the net result of these forces is a slightly increased ERA—by 20 points— to around the 4.00 mark.

Lilly is still a safe pitcher to own, and probably one of the safest in the major leagues considering his relative low cost.

Brett Myers

+------+-----------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----------+
| Year | Team      | IP    | W  | ERA  | WHIP |	K   | LIPS ERA |
+------+-----------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----------+
| 2006 | Phillies  | 198.0 | 12	| 3.91 | 1.30 | 189 |     3.71 |
| 2007 | Phillies  | 68.2  | 5	| 4.33 | 1.28 |  83 |     3.25 |
| 2008 | Phillies  | 190.0 | 10	| 4.55 | 1.38 |	163 |     3.88 |
| 2009 | Phillies  | 58.0  |  4	| 4.34 | 1.34 |  43 |     3.97 |
+------+-----------+-------+----+------+------+-----+----------+

Note: The Phillies experimented with Myers as their closer in 2007. He was 21 for 24 in save opps.

The headache that is Brett Myers has been relatively not so painful to own, after all, he has yet to be sent down to the minors. After a rocky start to the season, Myers pitched well in May, posting a 3.76 ERA for the month.

+------+----------+-------+------+--------+--------+-------+------+
| Year | Team     | K/9   | BB/9 | OF FB% | HR/FB% | BABIP | LOB% |
+------+----------+-------+------+--------+--------+-------+------+
| 2006 | Phillies | 8.59  | 2.86 |   32.7 |   15.8 | 0.309 | 76.1 |
| 2007 | Phillies | 10.88 | 3.54 |   32.2 |   15.8 | 0.320 | 73.3 |
| 2008 | Phillies | 7.72  | 3.08 |   28.8 |   17.6 | 0.311 | 72.6 |
| 2009 | Phillies | 6.67  | 2.95 |   26.5 |   31.3 | 0.267 | 88.5 |
+------+----------+-------+------+--------+--------+-------+------+

Similar to Lilly, most of Myers’ trouble has come from the long ball. If you thought Lilly’s ten home runs allowed was absurd, Myers has already let up fifteen! Seventy one percent of the earned runs he has allowed (20 of his 28 earned runs) are due to home runs. Although I did not do the calculation for all pitchers, I am confident that is league-leading.

Unlike Lilly, Myers’ home runs are not the result of an inflated fly ball rate (Myers is a ground ball pitcher with a close to 50 percent GB rate) but instead a 31 percent HR/FB ratio. Myers does typically struggle in preventing home runs; his career rate of 16 percent is above league average 11 percent. His current 31 percent rate, however, is unsustainable and likely to fall.

image
An interesting overhead view of Myers throwing a two-seam fastball taken from THT’s own private helicopter. (Icon/SMI)

If it fell to a more reasonable (yet still high) 18 percent, Myers would have given up 7.5 less home runs, which, using our 1.4 runs per home run conversion, would save him about 10 runs. A whole 1.54 points would be shed off of his ERA!

Eerily similar to Lilly, while Myers’ ERA will benefit from decreased home run totals, it figures to rise when his .267 BABIP and 88 percent LOB% regress. With an expected BABIP of .300 Myers would have allowed seven more hits, raising his ERA about 46 points. And with the LOB percentage dropping down to its normal level his ERA would rise even more.

What is interesting about Myers is that he blamed his early-season struggles on a couple of ticks off his fastball velocity, a drop from 91 to 89 MPH. On May 17th, the Philadephia Inquirer reported Myers made mechanical adjustments to increase his velocity.

According to Brooks Baseball’s Pitch f/x archive, Myers did throw his fastball slightly faster in his last start against the Yankees. His fastball velocity averaged at 89.7 MPH and topped out at 92.4 MPH.

I am not sure if the extra mile per hour is the reason Myers was able to pitch so well his past two starts, but keep an eye on his velocity and be wary of any drops.

Actually, the pitch that has been killing him is his change-up, which is 10 runs worse than the average change-up. My guess is that is the pitch most of these fifteen home runs were hit off of, and he better do something different with it whether it be locating it differently, or slowing or speeding up the pitch.

Overall, I would classify Myers as a risky pitcher that is prone to extreme swings in performance as we know from last year (5.84 pre-All Star break ERA, 3.06 post). Tentatively, I will say Myers is a pitcher you should be looking to buy right now, and he will make a good trade target if his owner is fed up with him getting worked every few starts. I make this suggestion more to cellar-dwelling teams that should start making more risky plays to give them a chance to rapidly climb in the standings.

It is better to go down swinging.

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Comments

  1. Mike Ketchen said...

    Paul,

    This was a great piece of writing. It is little things like this that can provide a huge edge. Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading your stuff from here on out.

  2. Pete said...

    Paul -

    Great stuff – I finally found some hope for Myers, me being an owner and towards the bottom of the standings, for many other reasons.  That was very helpful.

    Pete

  3. Ed Schwehm said...

    Paul,

    Excellent analysis! One thing I thought you might not have noticed; the reason Myers’ chanegup is so bad right now might be that extra MPH he lost from the fastball means it doesn’t set up the changeup as well. Since his changeup velocity hasn’t changed (83.5MPH), it’s not as different from his new fastball. Just a thought, thanks for the article!

  4. Paul Singman said...

    That’s a very good point, Ed. Although I can’t imagine his fastball getting any worse than it has been.

    I’ll be sure to do more similar articles in the future seeing the positive response to this one.

  5. Paul Singman said...

    In my comment above I meant Myers’ change-up cannot get any worse, not his fastball. Although this this does not matter anymore as Myers untimely decided to get hurt for the year.

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