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2013 Indians Player Preview: Brett Myers

As we count down the days until the start of the season, we’re profiling every player who will be on the Opening Day roster and how he could impact the team. Today, we continue making our way through the rotation with the Indians’ 2013 No. 3 starter: Brett Myers.

Background: The Philadelphia Phillies picked Myers out of high school with the 12th overall pick in the 1999 MLB amateur draft, three picks behind Barry Zito and two slots behind Ben Sheets. He became a fixture in the Phillies’ rotation from his debut in 2002 until 2007, when he was moved to the closer’s role for a season. After two years starting for Houston, the Astros moved Myers back to the bullpen in 2012, where he stayed even after being traded to the White Sox at the deadline. Chicago declined his $7 million option for 2013 (it would have paid $10 million, but it also included a $3 million buyout), but Cleveland signed him to a one-year deal that matched his would-have-been salary.

Last year: Myers’ return to the bullpen was a mixed bag. In 70 outings for the Astros and White Sox he pitched to a stellar 3.31 ERA (140 ERA+) and saved 19 games in 21 opportunities (he stopped closing after he came to Chicago) while getting his average fastball velocity (91.3 mph) up to the highest it’s been since 2007. Yet the DIPS estimators took a less optimistic view of his performance (tERA had him as high as 5.05) and his strikeout rate plunged to just 5.7 K/9—a full strikeout lower than it had been last year and barely half what it was during his last season in the bullpen. That’s not supposed to happen when you move to relief.

Baseball-Reference valued Myers’ 2012 performance at 0.9 wins above replacement, while FanGraphs (0.1 WAR) and Baseball Prospectus (0.0 WARP) saw him as around replacement level.

Key factor: Strikeouts. A decline in strike threes has been characteristic of the last few years of Myers’ career, but seeing his K/9 rate drop into the fives is troubling for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30. Especially troubling is that moving to relief is supposed to have the exact opposite effect on pitchers (that’s why I’ve suggested moving Ubaldo Jimenez to the bullpen)—if he can’t get strikeouts when he comes into the game for one inning at a time, how will he be able to do it when he has to pace himself for seven?

As a workhorse who’s already made a successful bullpen-to-rotation transition once he should be in better shape to start than most swingmen would be, but his strikeouts (or lack thereof) could prove to be a thorn in the Tribe’s side all year.

2013 projections: Courtesy of FanGraphs. (*—estimated with the Simple WAR Calculator)

All I can say about this is that the Oliver projection must have been written by Brett Myers’ biggest fan.

Best-case scenario: The ZiPS projection spells this out pretty well. Myers’ strikeout rate rebounds a bit without his giving up too many walks. You wouldn’t put him at the top of the rotation and it’s still questionable whether he’s worth the $7 million the Indians are paying him, but he’ll be a reliable middle-rotation workhorse to whom you can feel comfortable handing the ball every fifth day.

Worst-case scenario: We saw this in Myers’ last season with the Phillies. He lost his touch and gave up 17 homers in 63.2 innings before hitting the disabled list for three months; he ended the year with a 6.14 FIP and an .872 OPS against. It’s not inconceivable to think that he could be this year’s Derek Lowe.

What to expect: The Steamer projection looks about right to me, just with more innings pitched. He’s not here to win a Cy Young, he’s here to eat innings and take the pressure off the bullpen—and he shouldn’t have any trouble meeting that goal.

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