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Scouting Pitchers: Brett Myers

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Statistics as of 5/20/08

This week, we'll look at the strange saga of Brett Myers, who has given up the most runs (42) in the NL this season. Myers was the Phillies' Opening Day starter in 2007 after fanning 397 in 413 innings from 2005 to 2006. By the end of 2007, he was their closer, and he finished their division-clinching win on September 30th. He has struggled to find his velocity in 2008, with radar readings from 88-92 instead of his usual 91-96.

I scout these pitchers personally, recording their velocity, pitch selection and motions by watching their games. Please feel free to post your comments below on these columns. I use the standard 20-80 scouting scale to rate pitchers. These velocities are suggestive and not determinant of a pitch's rating. For example, a 75 MPH curveball might rank as a 60 because of its movement and/or deception.

80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball)
70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB)
60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB)
50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB)
40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB)
30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB)
20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)

The right-handed Myers (6-4, 238, born 8/17/1980) was the Phillies' first-round pick (12th overall) in 1999 out of a Florida high school. It became clear Myers was not a low-maintenance pitcher when the former amateur boxer said he wanted to emulate Curt Schilling. He came quickly through the minors, pitching 175 innings at Low-A in 2000 and going 13-4 with a 3.87 ERA at Double-A. Myers beat the Cubs in his major league debut on July 24, 2002 with eight innings of two-hit ball.

Myers hit some growing pains in 2003 after a good first half (9-6, 3.65). His second-half ERA was 5.72, and it was 5.52 in 2004. His manager (Larry Bowa) speculated he was trying to throw instead of pitch his way out of jams. Myers came clean the next spring about gaining too much weight during 2004 and reported improved conditioning. 2005 was much better (13-8, 3.72) as he reached 200 innings and strikeouts for the first time. Myers credited his new pitching coach and a simplified windup.

2006 was a roller-coaster ride for Myers, as he was dominant early before assaulting his wife on a Boston street on June 24th. The Phillies made the insensitive decision to allow him to make his start the next day on national television, creating a PR disaster. Myers entered counseling and was eventually exonerated when his wife dropped the charges in October. Myers allowed the eighth-most homers in the NL in 2006 (29) after ranking seventh in 2005 (31) and 2004 (31).

Myers struggled out of the gate in 2007 before moving to the bullpen in April. A sore shoulder kept him out for June and July, but he saved 14 games down the stretch. He continued to show his attitude as he blew up at a reporter after blowing a save in August. Back in the rotation this year, Myers has struggled badly, giving up three runs or less in just four of his 10 starts. He has been hit hard on the road (0-4, 7.39).

Brett Myers: (G/F 1.16)

		Rating:  %Thrown:
Fastball	55		25
Cutter		55		25
Curveball	55		15
Slider		55		25
Split-finger	50		5
Changeup	50		5
Control	50
Delivery	45
Composure	40

Myers' four-seam fastball is currently 90-91 MPH and his cut fastball is 86-89. His curveball is still effective at 72-80 MPH, although he hangs it too often. Myers relies on his 83-87 MPH slider a lot when in trouble, and he spots it better than his fastball. He is struggling to locate his fastball this year, and misses his spots too frequently. Myers also throws an 81-82 MPH changeup and an 84-86 MPH splitter now and then. Besides his curve, his stuff has lost its separation this year - frankly, his pitches look a lot alike.

A scout suggested to ESPN's Jayson Stark that Myers' over-reliance on his cutter has reduced his velocity. Another reason could be his shoulder injury last year. Myers was clocked from 94-98 at this time last year but was in the low 90s after he came off the DL. Myers also seems to be throwing across his body more in 2008. As a reliever, he looked like he was coordinating his motion from back to front more efficiently and striding straight toward the plate.

As his fastball has been less effective, Myers has thrown more breaking pitches. Pitchers are supposed to throw these with the same motion as their fastball but often rotate their body for extra torque. Kerry Wood blew out his elbow early in his career throwing his slider this way. Myers' problems could be a vicious cycle: by relying on his cutter and breaking pitches more, he is getting away from what might help him regain his velocity. Pitching coach Rich Dubee wants Myers to focus on long-toss in between starts and his fastball and curveball during them.

It is tempting but overly simplistic to write off Myers as a head case who is receiving his just desserts for his poor off-field behavior. His strikeout rate is still high, and he could be pitching through an injury. Moving back to the bullpen and smoothing out his delivery might help, but the Phillies need innings. Calls for this move will intensify if Myers doesn't straighten out soon.


Radar Love - Heat in the last week:

92-96: Jeremy Guthrie against Washington on May 18.
91-96: Daniel Cabrera in New York on May 20.
91-93: Jered Weaver against the Dodgers on May 18.
90-92: Cole Hamels in fanning 11 Nationals on May 20. He struck out five with fastballs, five with his changeup and one with a curve.
90-94: Jonathan Sanchez against the White Sox on May 16.
90-92: Gavin Floyd in San Francisco on May 16.
89-93: Justin Masterson while beating the Royals on May 20.

Next week: AL Central: Justin Verlander


Article first appeared 5/22/08