Meet the New and Improved Brett Myers

Thomas Pinzone Correspondent IMay 18, 2010

CLEARWATER, FL - MARCH 25: Pitcher Brett Myers #39 of the Houston Astros starts against the Philadelphia Phillies March 25, 2010 at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

After an up and down career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Brett Myers is off to a better than expected start with the Houston Astros. His tenure with the Phillies ended on arguably his worst season of his eight-year career. While his 2004 season saw him put up a career high ERA (5.52) and a career low strikeouts per nine innings (5.93), he did take 31 turns in the rotation and pitched 176 innings. Last year he had the combination of poor performance, evidenced by his 4.84 ERA and a horrid 6.14 FIP , and poor health pitching just 70 2/3 innings across 18 appearances (10 starts).

That all looks to be behind him so far in 2010. In his first eight starts his ERA (3.67) and FIP(3.98) both look great. Myers has also averaged 6.75 innings per start putting him on pace for over 200 innings pitched, if he can stay healthy of course. He did put together a four-year run from 2003 to 2006 in which he started at least 31 times, and he won't turn 30 until August so he's not over the hill just yet.

Is this really a new Brett Myers? Or is it just Myers going through a stretch of good starts that just happens to have started early in the season? After all, Myers has pitched 1,237 innings in his career and made 191 starts. Does his most recent 54 innings take precedent over the first 1,183?

Of course not. But this is not the Myers of old either. Let's dig deeper to see why.

First of all, Myers has been good before, namely in 2005 and 2006 when he had WAR s of 3.4 and 3.5. In both of those seasons he had walks per nine innings rates under 3.00 (2.84 and 2.86) and an ERA of 3.72 and 3.91. Myers' walk rates have been even better this year at just 2.67. And even in his struggles last season he walked just 2.93 per nine.

But that is where this year's results stop comparing to his past. So far he has a ground ball rate of 50.3 percent of his balls in play. He hasn't had a mark higher than 47.1 across a full season since 2003. Likewise, his fly ball rate stands at 30.6 percent, a rate last seen by Myers over a full season in 2005 and slightly lower than his career mark of 32.1.

However, the most glaring difference between old Brett and new Brett is both his home runs per nine innings and his HR/FB percentage. He's allowed one home run per nine innings so far, well below his career mark of 1.34. This could easily be dismissed as a byproduct of a small sample size, especially considering his ugly 2.29 homers per nine rate in last season's 70 innings. It would be logical to throw both of them out the window and expect a return to his career average.

You could do the same with the fact that only 11.8 percent of his fly balls have left the yard compared to a career that has seen his fly balls turn into homers 15.4 percent of the time. But we won't because new Brett is getting new results with his new approach to pitching.

A look at Myers' PitchFX page on FanGraphs reveals all. PitchFX has classified 23 percent of his pitches this season as a two-seam fastball, up from 4.1 percent in 2009 and .3 in 2008. He's also increased the use of his slider, up to 29.9 percent from last season's 17.7. The drastic increase between those two pitches has led to a reduction in his four-seam fastball (19.4 percent from 43.6 percent), change-up (4.7 percent from 9.5 percent) and curveball (22.5 percent from 24.8 percent).

The two-seamer has an average velocity of 89.1 mph, closely mirroring the 89.9 mph average of his four-seamer but with better movement. That could be the explanation for Myers' increased ground ball rate and decreased propensity to yield the gopher ball.

He's also mixing his pitches better than ever before, and with good separation in velocities. His slider has come in on average at 84.6 mph, with the curve checking in at 77.1 mph. The variety of speeds, coupled with close frequency between his fastballs and curveballs, is another improvement for Myers. The cutback in his change-up is a welcome development too, it was worth -4.9 runs below average last season and doesn't have great velocity separation from his fastball either at 84.7 mph on average.

Taking all the evidence into consideration there are enough reasons to believe that the new Brett Myers might be here to stay for a while longer.