One of the central goals of the Indians’ offseason plans was to improve their dreadful starting rotation from 2012. While the team was expected to be a player for some of the second-tier free agents, the name Brett Myers was a surprise to fans when he inked a one-year, $7 million deal with Cleveland this week.
Myers, a 32-year-old who spent 2012 as a reliever with the Astros and White Sox, brings a reliable reputation as a solid innings-eater to Terry Francona’s club. He will easily be the most experienced pitcher on the team’s roster in 2013 1 .
But this Myers deal is as potentially helpful as it is intriguing. First thing is first: The Indians starting rotation truly was awful last season. As I broke down previously, they ranked 13th in the AL and 28th in MLB with a 5.25 ERA. So practically anything would be an improvement. But what exactly brought Myers to Cleveland and what could we expect this coming season?
Let’s first go to the obvious reason why Myers chose Cleveland: He was comfortable with Francona and his coaches. Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer broke this down earlier in the week. Third base coach Brad Mills was his manager in Houston. Bullpen coach Kevin Cash worked with him there too. And Lou Marson and Francona are familiar faces from his days with the Phillies.
Rumors circulated that the Minnesota Twins also were interested in Myers’ services. He certainly didn’t have the notoriety on the free agent as pitchers such as Kyle Lohse and Shaun Marcum. So why not head to a club with lots of familiar faces and at least an outside chance to contend for a playoff spot in the weak AL Central besides Detroit?
Now, why again did Myers make sense for Cleveland? Let’s go to the numbers. Here are Myers’ career statistics, along with his 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, and his splits between being a starter and reliever:
Myers’ career began in Philadelphia, where he was a bit of a different pitcher. He was throwing more fastballs — as you can see in this FanGraphs breakdown. He threw fastballs on at least 56% of his pitches in his first four years; since then, he has settled in the 47-52% range. Thus, as you’d expect, he was at one point striking out more batters, but as a young and wild pitcher, also was having trouble with control and keeping the ball away from opponent’s bats.
His 2004 season was his worst: 11-11 with a 5.52 ERA in 32 games (31 starts). He gave up 31 HRs and only was striking out 5.9 batters per nine innings. He then rebounded with impressive 2005 and 2006 campaigns, but his ERA actually jumped in each of his remaining four seasons before moving over to Houston in 2010.
The graph above also goes to show the difference of the reliever/starter roles in the MLB. He has enough experience in the bullpen to make some expected observations — his overall ERA is down, strikeouts are up (except for 2012) and walks are down. He’s a more effective pitcher when he can conserve his energy for just 30-40 pitches, instead of 90-100. That is simply how usual baseball pitching analysis goes in the 21st century.
But what strikes me — and possibly the Indians — the most is that Myers’ worst seasons have never been that bad. His worst year was that 2004 season with a -0.6 WAR. That was eight-plus years ago now. He has five other seasons with 170+ IP since then: 2005 (2.6 WAR), 2006 (4.2), 2008 (0.4), 2010 (4.7) and 2011 (0.1). Those are all positive numbers and all better than what either Ubaldo Jimenez (-0.1) or Justin Masterson (0.0) did in 2012.
So yes, I’d expect Myers to potentially regress this season as he transitions back to full-time starting duties and adjusts to the AL offenses. But in a nutshell, would you rather have him or Jeanmar Gomez — who was DFA’d in a move this week — for 2013? Even though Gomez is only 24 years old, you shouldn’t be fooled by that question. Here are Gomez’s career MLB stats to prove that point:
His best season (2011) barely is better than Myers’ worst over the last eight years, and his career numbers, which equate to a nearly full year, are very, very bad. So this is a clear upgrade for 2013, although certainly I could see the long-term benefits differently if we were to look at the next 5-10 years or so.
And then there’s the obvious comparison: Is Brett Myers another Derek Lowe signing? Again, I don’t believe so one bit. Entering 2012, Lowe was a 39-year-old who had just imploded in the stretch for the Braves in 2011. His velocity had been way down as he aged, and his previous three seasons weren’t all that good:
Actually, those numbers are very Gomez-esque. Remember that WAR is a not a rate statistic. In that, if two pitchers are pitching at the exact same efficiency level, the one with more innings pitched will have a better WAR. That case can be made about Myers’ career, although he has proved it well enough in the bullpen that he’s still efficient wherever.
Now, going back to the Indians in 2013, GM Chris Antonetti announced this week that there are three starters locked into the rotation: Masterson, Jimenez and Myers. After that, Zach McAllister has the leg up in the competition for the No. 4 spot. Most folks expect Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber, David Huff and Scott Kazmir to then battle for the final spot, as of now.
Overall, that’s still a below-average starting rotation in the majors. The Detroit Tigers again drastically improved in acquiring Anibal Sanchez, and I wouldn’t expect the Indians to jump from 13th in the AL to better than 7th or 8th. But in terms of the long-run with the Bauer trade and the short-run with the Myers signing, the Indians have clearly accomplished their goal in the starting rotation.
One could make the argument that Myers was the best risk/reward option for the Indians in the free agent market. Kyle Lohse was at one point expected to attract a four-year deal, while both Shaun Marcum and Joe Saunders could attract multi-year deals as well. Myers has an $8 million option for 2014, but this was a win-win for both sides in terms of comfort and fit. This free agent signing won’t necessarily sell any more seats in 2013, although it still could be a big boost for a bad staff.
(AP Photo/Matt Strasen)
He has 1,688.2 career innings pitched in 11 seasons. Justin Masterson is second with 1,093.0 IP in seven years.