Is Brett Myers’ 2010 a fluke?

Brett Myers is having a really nice season seemingly out of nowhere. He’s 10-7 on a really poor team with a career-best 3.02 ERA. His peripherals are terrific as well: His 7.02 K/9 is a boost from last year and his 2.59 BB/9 is a career-low. Even his groundball rate is up to 49.2%, it’s highest rate in seven years. Meanwhile his WHIP is nearly a career low (1.24) despite his BABIP (.299) being essentially equivalent to his career rate (.301). The end result is that his FIP is a career-low 3.46 and his xFIP* is the best it’s been as a starter in three years at 3.81.

*xFIP is actually a very poor way to measure Brett Myers. Myers has a career HR/FB rate of 14.4%, meaning that the statistic prior to 2009 has always overrated him. As a result, there have been several years of Myers having a pretty good xFIP (such as his xFIP of 3.36 in 2005). However, because his true HR/FB rate appears to be worse than the standard rate of 11%, Myers has basically never before this year had an ERA lower than his xFIP.

So the question is: Is this performance for real? Or is it a fluke? Can we count on Myers to continue his performance next year and be a valuable fantasy player? To answer this question, I’m going to take a look at Myers’ pitches each of the last three years to see if his great results this year are the result of something new that is likely to continue, or just lucky results of the same pitches he has thrown before.

Myers’ pitches

Year Pitch Type # of Pitches Thrown Average Velocity Average Horizontal Spin Deflection Average Vertical Spin Deflection
2008 Change-Up 226 82.32 -8.01 5.18
2009 Change-Up 56 83.35 -7.25 5.51
2010 Change-Up 217 83.14 -7.01 4.60
2008 Curve 680 77.20 4.99 -9.22
2009 Curve 265 77.43 5.76 -9.44
2010 Curve 528 76.63 6.94 -10.63
2008 4-Seam 1088 90.14 -3.42 9.84
2009 4-Seam 380 89.61 -3.06 10.36
2010 4-Seam 501 89.78 -3.30 7.72
2008 2-Seam 385 88.45 -8.22 6.83
2009 2-Seam 202 88.52 -8.12 6.91
2010 2-Seam 687 89.31 -7.94 5.62
2008 Cutter/Slider 553 84.38 1.60 1.91
2009 Cutter/Slider 204 84.33 2.11 2.29
2010 Cutter/Slider 722 83.80 2.70 0.02

Table 1: Showing the average speed and spin deflection on each of Myers’ five pitches. Note: A negative horizontal spin deflection means that the pitch “moves” in on right-handed batters, while a positive horizontal spin deflection means that the pitch moves in on left-handed batters.

Brett Myers throws five pitches: A four-seam fastball*, a two-seam fastball*, a change-up or split-fingered fastball**, a slider or cutter**, and a curveball.

*Myers clearly throws two types of fastballs in addition to his three other pitches, but in some cases it is difficult to differentiate between the two types of pitches when the movements and speeds overlap. I’ve classified all of these pitches myself and am about 95% sure that these classifications are correct.

**It seems like his “slider” might actually be a cut fastball (cutter) and the change-up might be a split-fingered fastball, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to refer to those pitches as a slider and change-up respectively.

The movement and velocity of Myers’ pitches have not changed much over the last three years. His four-seam fastball has a little less rise than it did in previous years, but at least some of that is probably measurement error from moving from Citizens’ Bank Park to Minute Maid Park in Houston. Otherwise, the pitches themselves do not appear to be much different in movement than in any previous years. So what has changed? Well first lets look at the results of these pitches:

Pitch Type Year # of Pitches Thrown Whiff Rate Swing Rate Swinging Strike Rate In-Strike-Zone Rate In Play Rate GB % FB% HR/FB Run Value Per 100 Pitches
Change-Up 2008 226 26.72% 51.33% 13.72% 46.46% 20.80% 51.06% 31.91% 33.33% 1.841
Change-Up* 2009* 56* 22.22% 48.21% 10.71% 44.64% 28.57% 31.25% 43.75% 42.86% 9.981
Change-Up 2010 217 17.89% 43.78% 7.83% 48.39% 20.74% 51.11% 20.00% 0.00% -1.884
Curve 2008 680 28.09% 47.65% 13.38% 63.09% 15.74% 81.31% 6.54% 0.00% -2.598
Curve 2009 265 24.55% 41.51% 10.19% 61.51% 15.09% 75.00% 7.50% 33.33% -1.434
Curve 2010 528 28.35% 48.11% 13.64% 59.09% 16.86% 71.91% 11.24% 0.00% -2.394
4-Seam 2008 1088 10.41% 40.63% 4.23% 65.81% 19.49% 27.83% 31.13% 21.21% 0.263
4-Seam 2009 380 5.06% 41.58% 2.11% 67.11% 22.89% 32.18% 36.78% 28.13% 1.209
4-Seam 2010 501 9.35% 42.71% 3.99% 65.67% 21.56% 41.67% 35.19% 23.68% 1.010
2-Seam 2008 385 6.25% 37.40% 2.34% 51.95% 21.56% 54.22% 10.84% 11.11% 1.228
2-Seam 2009 202 8.14% 42.57% 3.47% 47.52% 18.32% 54.05% 18.92% 0.00% -2.486
2-Seam 2010 687 12.90% 40.61% 5.24% 55.31% 22.13% 54.61% 24.34% 8.11% -0.293
Slider/Cutter 2008 553 22.85% 48.28% 11.03% 62.21% 19.53% 45.37% 28.70% 29.03% 0.171
Slider/Cutter 2009 204 26.14% 43.14% 11.27% 65.20% 18.63% 52.63% 23.68% 55.56% 2.533
Slider/Cutter 2010 722 25.08% 45.84% 11.50% 57.76% 16.62% 34.17% 39.17% 6.38% -1.870

Table 2: The Results of Myers’ pitches over the last three years.
Table Legend
Whiff Rate: (# of Swinging Strikes)/(# of Pitches Swung at by Batters)
Swing Rate: (# of Pitches Swung at by Batters)/(Total Pitches Thrown)
Swinging Strike %: (# of Swinging Strikes)/(Total Pitches Thrown)
In-Strike-Zone Rate: % of Pitches in a wide (2 feet wide) strike zone.
In Play Rate: % of total pitches (of that type and year) that are put into play.
GB Rate: % of balls hit into play by batters that result in ground balls.
FB Rate: % of balls hit into play by batters that result in fly balls.
HR/FB: % of Fly Balls that result in Home Runs
Run Value Per 100 Pitches: The Run Value per 100 Knuckleballs thrown. NEGATIVE Run Values are good while Positive Run Values are bad (The opposite of fangraphs).

*NOTE: The 2009 data, particularly that of the change-up, is of a much smaller sample size than the rest of the data, as Myers was injured part of the season and spent some of 2009 relieving. Don’t pay too much attention to the exaggerated rates in the rows with the asterisks.

There are a few things that are fairly obvious to note in this table. First, Myers’ curve ball is pretty good and this has not changed over the three years. The pitch has a solid swinging strike rate and is an extreme groundball pitch (It’s the second-best pitch this year at getting ground balls, behind only Gio Gonzalez’s curve ball).

In a similar vein, it’s fairly obvious that the four-seam fastball is the worst of Myers’ pitches at getting ground balls. It also doesn’t have a good strikeout rate, and has what seems to be a high HR/FB rate. It is this pitch that has been mainly responsible in the past for Myers’ tendency to give up a much larger amount of HRs than usual.

A few things have seemed to change in the table: First of all, Myers’ curveballs, four-seam fastballs, and sliders this year have missed the strike zone more frequently than previously (especially the slider). This is a strange result, when we remember that Myers’ walk rate is at a career low this year. But the key is that the decrease in accuracy is the result of Myers throwing these pitches (especially the slider) on 0-2 and 1-2 counts and purposefully missing the strike zone more often. The slider, for example, on these counts is now thrown farther outside and lower than before. Thus he’s missing the zone more often, but not during the counts that are most dangerous.

Second, Myers’ fastball has increased it’s groundball rate this year. This might be a result of the slight decrease in “rise” on that fastball this year, but could just be a fluke. It’s worth noting that the HR/FB rate on the pitch has stayed the same along with most of the other rates.

Third, Myers’ slider has a vastly decreased HR/FB rate this year: It’s down to 6.38% from 29% in 2008. This is a huge decrease, considering how often Myers throws the slider. This change might be due to the fact that he’s hitting a different location with the pitch this year: Whereas before he would try and hit the corner away from right-handed batters and low, this year he’s aiming even more away and low, which has resulted in the decrease in sliders in the strike zone we noted before. That said, this seems like too large a change to be completely skill-based; it would be wise to bet on this rate regressing next year.

Fourth, you may have noted that the amount of each pitch type seems to have changed this year from previous years. It seems like he’s throwing more sliders and two-seam fastballs this year. Lets see if that’s true by looking at the breakdown of Myers’ pitch selection for right-handed and left-handed batters over the last three years:

image
Figure 1: The Breakdown of how many of each pitch Myers throws to each type of batter. Note for reading the chart: FF = four-seam fastball, while FT = two-seam fastball

As you can see here, Myers has changed two things this year in how he pitches to both kinds of batters. First, he’s increased the use of his slider to both left- and right-handed batters. This should be somewhat successful since the pitch gets a decent amount of swinging strikes and has a low HR/FB this year. On the other hand, as we said before, we would expect the HR/FB to regress next year, which might make this pitch selection choice look worse.

Second, and just as importantly, Myers has seemed to increase the amount of two-seam fastballs he throws to both types of batters at the cost of decreasing the amount of four-seam fastballs he has thrown. This is key to remember because Myers’ two-seam fastball has several better features than the four-seam fastball. First, it’s more of a groundball pitch, with a steady 55% GB rate in each of the last three years. Second, its HR/FB seems to be much lower than the super-large HR/FB rate of his four-seamer. This low rate this year (8.11%) might regress a little, but not very much. Thus the switch to the two-seam fastball as the dominant pitch is likely to result in Myers’ performance continuting to be at least somewhat good in the future.

Conclusion

So what should we expect from Myers next year? Well, obviously, some regression in his slider’s HR/FB rate is going to affect most of his numbers (WHIP, ERA, Wins). But if he continues to use his two-seam fastball as his primary fastball, his HR/FB rate shouldn’t regress totally to his career norm: I’d expect the result to be a HR/FB rate of around roughly 11%, putting his results in line essentially with his xFIP next year.

Regarding his other numbers, I haven’t seen anything in these numbers that clearly explains the decrease in his walk rate this year, so I would expect that to regress slightly. His K rate might not regress if he continues his new trend this year of throwing the slider out of the strike zone more often, so that’s not bad.

All in all, if in 2010 he continues to throw his pitches in the same manner he is this year, I would expect his xFIP and FIP to regress a little (because of the BB rate increasing) and for his ERA to rise to match the new xFIP. Thus I’d expect his ERA naturally to rise toward a new xFIP of roughly around 4 (For the record, I haven’t calculated the exact amount of regression, so take this number with a grain of salt. It’s a prediction based on the above, but should not be treated as an exact).

Thus Brett Myers should probably be on your fantasy radar next year, but he shouldn’t be ranked too highly. If he maintains his current pitch-selection, he’ll still be a good pitcher, but he should not be able to repeat an ERA of around 3 again.

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