All that stands between the St. Louis Cardinals and (at the very least) a 163rd game playoff for the National League is Brett Myers, a 31-year-old pitcher with all of 1.3 wins above replacement on the season, a 4.31 ERA, and a 4.30 FIP. No problem for a lineup like St. Louis, this year’s National League leader in runs scored, right?
On the other hand, Myers enters tonight’s start on fire, recording five straight starts of at least six innings pitched and only one run allowed. He’s now a full three months removed from a 16-start stretch spanning April, May, and June which saw him yield 22 home runs and a 4.82 ERA. Since then, Myers has settled in a bit, recording a 78-to-23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a 4.00 ERA, roughly league average in the hitters’ environment in Houston.
Which pitcher should the Cardinals expect to show up tonight?
Now that Myers has seen his home run rates regress to near the league average, he’s been a pretty productive pitcher. We shouldn’t be surprised — his overall xFIP for the season is a solid 3.75. He has a good ground ball rate of 47.5%, he strikes out a fair number of batters (6.7 per nine innings) and thrives on control (2.4 walks per nine innings). Overall, that’s the makings of an average to good pitcher, as long as the ball stays in the yard.
But it’s not just the first half of the season in which the home run has been a problem for Myers. This is the story of his entire career. Only three times in his career has Myers sustained a HR/9 rate below 1.30, and only twice has he kept a HR/FB rate below 13%, a number well above the league average of 8.4% and the qualified starter average of 9.4%.
Myers has the ability to be a shutdown pitcher, thanks to his good control and ability to induce grounders. But he has been susceptible to the home run ball for much of 2011 and for much of his career. The Cardinals have the lineup to make a pitcher like Brett Myers pay, and if they can, the playoffs are well within their grasp.