Brett Myers will try to work out his problems in the minors, as the Philadelphia Phillies optioned the veteran right-hander to Triple-A Lehigh Valley this afternoon.
Headed into spring training—when Myers pulled that hilarious prank on teammate Kyle Kendrick—many experts thought that Philadelphia made a tremendous upgrade to its pitching staff. While the club resisted the urge to overpay for a veteran free-agent starter—with Carlos Silva highlighting the list of available options, this was a wise decision—the acquisition of a talented closer, Brad Lidge, allowed Myers to move back into the Phillies’ rotation. Everything has not gone according to plan, however.
Philadelphia is still in first place, with one of the best records in the inferior National League, where anything is possible. Myers has done little to help the Phillies’ cause, though, posting a 78 ERA+ in 17 games started before the demotion; the barometer for league average is 100. His velocity has been down a tick this season—he was consistently clocked in the 92-93-MPH range as a closer in ’07, but is now topping out in the upper-80s—and he has struggled with his command as well; he ranks 10th in the NL with 44 bases on balls.
Clearly, something is not right with him. Whether he needs to refine his approach—due to the drop off in velocity—and reinvent himself on the mound, or his problems are the result of a health issue, the organization can only hope that he can get things straightened out down in the minors. While the Phillies remain the favorite to win the East, the club needs an effective Myers in the second half.
Philadelphia, 45-39, still has an excellent +77 run differential, outscoring its opponents 428-351. But imagine where they would be if Myers had lived up to his pre-season projections in the first half, especially with the Atlanta Braves’ unprecedented struggles in one-run games. This season, Philadelphia has used five starters, ace Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Kendrick, Adam Eaton and Myers. Overall, the group has combined to post a 4.51 ERA. That number, however, is inflated by the poor performance of Myers, who was forced to become the Phillies’ closer after Tom Gordon went down with an injury early in 2007.
Hamels was one of the best starters in baseball in the first half, limiting opponents to a line of .212/.264/.378. He is a misleading 8-5 with a 3.38 ERA and is among league leaders with 103 punchouts. A command specialist, he has walked only 31 in a club-best 120.0 innings pitched.
Moyer does whatever it takes to get the job done. The 45-year-old is turning into the Julio Franco of pitching, and continues to frustrate hitters by using his control and savvy on the mound to keep them off balance.
Then there is Eaton, whom many people thought would never make an impact in the city of Brotherly Love after his disastrous ’07 campaign. While he has not exactly been stellar—.816 opponents’ OPS—he has given his team a chance to win in several of his starts, providing some value for them over the season’s first couple months.
Kendrick has done his part as well. Really, it is a good thing that he was not actually traded to Japan for the famous hot dog eating champion Kobayashi, as Myers, manager Jerry Manuel and club officials tricked him into thinking this March. Although he was a savior for the Phils down the stretch a year ago, he has been equally effective—though he has had a great deal of run support—this season, going 7-3 in the first half.
Myers, however, has been a major disappointment, as the Phillies are 1-11 in his last 12 outings. But a 3-9 record and 1.56 WHIP hardly tell the whole story of his struggles. In 101.2 innings pitched, he has posted an opponents’ OPS of .907. To put this into perspective, consider this: there are currently only 10 hitters in the National League who own a higher mark in that statistical category, players the likes of Chipper Jones and Myers’ teammate, All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.
So, yeah, if he can get it figured out and turn into the Myers of old once he returns, Philadelphia could run away with this thing. The NL East figures to remain as one of the least competitive divisions the rest of the way. With a dynamic offense led by stars such as surging Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Utley, the club will definitely score its fair share of runs.
Not to mention, the Phillies’ bullpen has been excellent, as Lidge has regained his old form—he has had confidence issues ever since giving up the infamous walk-off home run to Albert Pujols in the ’06 NLCS. In fact, he has been one of the best closers in the game so far, posting a 0.84 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 42-to-15 K/W ratio while averaging 11.81 strikeouts per nine innings in 32.0 innings pitched. Not to mention, he is among league leaders with 18 saves.
The Florida Marlins, one of the year’s best stories, are likely to fade, as they have a negative run differential. There is no telling if Atlanta can rely on its young pitchers the rest of the summer. Sure enough, Charlie Morton struggled as the teams went head-to-head tonight, allowing five earned runs on eight hits in the Phillies’ 8-3 win. Jones and Mark Kotsay did return to the lineup for the game, though, which should provide the Braves a nice boost; Jones was expected to hit the DL.
It should be interesting to see how this situation plays itself out. It is safe to say, the club prankster (see video below) is not laughing anymore. Perhaps Kobayashi would have been more effective over the first three months than Myers.
Myers will look to turn things around on Wednesday night, when he makes his first Triple-A start in Allentown.