Myers to Close in Houston But Why

Brett Myers is headed back to the closer’s role in Houston. He should be a decent closer. But why, from a team standpoint, would the building Astros shift a capable 200-inning resource into a 70-inning role?

He should excel in the role. The last time he closed, in 2007, he had a double-digit strikeout rate, an xFIP close to three and was worth 1.3 wins — just a hiccup short of last year’s 1.5 wins he accrued in the rotation.

In fact, Myers, in a short sample, did a pretty good job illustrating Tom Tango’s ‘rule of 17.’ His 28.3% strikeout rate was 25% better than his strikeout rate the year before as a starter and his homer rate went down 11%. Given the 31-year-old’s reduced stuff these days, we could maybe expect a strikeout rate around 21% and an HR/9 under one. The top thirty pitchers by saves last year averaged a 23.9% strikeout rate and a HR/9 of .71, so he’ll be ‘in the neighborhood’ but isn’t likely to be a standout closer.

For a closer, he’ll be paid handsomely. His $11 million salary this year would rank as the eighth-most-expensive average annual value for a closer in the history of baseball. Even with inflation, slotting in Brett Myers just short of Francisco Cordero and his inflated Reds contract, or ahead of even an aging Heath Bell in Florida, doesn’t quite make sense.

Why would a rebuilding team spend $10 million on a closer when some combination of Wilton Lopez and David Carpenter could get the job done for much less? And Myers could give you another 200 competent innings?

Perhaps its about marketability. Myers was decent as a starter, but no team was lining up to acquire a starter with a 4.46 ERA in the National League. If Myers goes to the bullpen and shows better numbers, maybe he becomes a tradeable asset. His contract was reworked to reflect his change in roles, though, so the vesting option for 2014 could be a hindrance.

Perhaps the move is about the starting rotation. Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ are the top three pitchers. Moving Myers to the pen means that Jordan Lyles has a full rotation spot. It also means that the fifth spot, which isn’t always needed, can become a Major League audition spot for the Astros prospect pitchers. Newcomers Kyle Weiland and Brett Oberholtzer can now compete to take the spot from incumbent Lucas Harrell. Instead of having five meh starting pitchers, the Astros now have four — and an prospect spot. With Livan Hernandez as the safety blanket.

Long term, it will be more important for the Astros to sort out their starting rotation than their bullpen. In a strange twist, that’s why it makes sense to move a present-tense resource in Myers to the bullpen — because doing so will help them figure out what they have among their bevy of mediocre pitching prospects. If one of them steps to the fore and proves he’s a Major League starter this year, the team will have gotten what they wanted from moving Myers to the pen.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

50 Responses to “Myers to Close in Houston But Why”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Also worth pointing out that Jeff Luhnow has posted like a zillion tweets drooling over the joy of watching Livan Hernandez pitch.

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  2. st says:

    this move makes so little sense, it may actually make sense…if that makes sense.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      The thing is that the Astros are not going to come anywhere close to competing in 2012 or 2013, and Myers does nothing to draw fans. So need to analyze things like WAR and winning.

      Opening up a roster spot allows them more of a chance to analyze their young starters. And, supposedly, they tried to trade Myers all season and offseason, but couldn’t find any takers. So, even though his actual value will take a hit, his trade value could go up if he succeeds in the closer role.

      Though I’m a little puzzled why his trade value as a starter is nil. 2011-2012, he’s got a 3.79 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, 3.81 SIERA, while throwing 220 innings each year.

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  3. Mike says:

    Further proof that the Astros make decisions using South Park’s “consult the charts” methodology.

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    • steex says:

      I can only assume Luhnow’s staff is feverishly working to figure out the unknown step that makes this move lead to “profit.”

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  4. bgrosnick says:

    The thing I don’t get is that there are plenty of teams who could get value out of Brett Myers as an innings-eating starter, even if he’s league-average or worse. For example, the Red Sox, Orioles, or the Athletics. Is the trade value for this type of league-average starter so low that even if the Astros decided they did want to go with someone like Weiland in the rotation, they couldn’t have moved Myers to another team and gotten something (anything) in return? Are they thinking that he can rebuild value as a closer? Or are they overvaluing late-inning relievers themselves?

    It seems very similar to an argument that I made last year about moving Mike Pelfrey to the bullpen, in order for the Mets to maximize his value as a high-leverage reliever. I was soundly shouted down – even average or below-average starters hold substantive value if they can go every fifth day. If 180-inning starters have such value even at an average level of performance, why wouldn’t it be worth moving Myers to a team that values it and get something like a C+ prospect back in return, rather than turning him into something less, that a non-contending team doesn’t need? Has the market cratered that badly?

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Here’s the thing about trading Myers: He’s been on the block for a while. Everyone must know that the Astros’ veterans are for sale. So maybe people aren’t interested. The teams you mentioned, too — they’re in the AL. Maybe they see a mediocre NL starter and say… eh, unsure he can hack it in AL.

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      • bgrosnick says:

        Yeah, that all makes sense. But there’s certainly an element of risk, too. If Myers fails as a closer (which doesn’t seem unlikely – remember, he’s still not good, and there’s a smaller sample size), there’s nowhere left to go from there. And starters keep getting injured…

        I still like the move if this means Weiland or Oberholtzer gets the spot – obviously the market for starting pitching isn’t nearly as robust as one might imagine. But if this is making room for Livan, then nothing makes sense. The Astros could be downgrading in the bullpen to make room for a downgrade in the rotation, at the expense of a fringy asset.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Why is it the Yankees could get rid of Burnett for $13M/2, but the Astros can’t get rid of Myers for $11M/1 ?

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      • bgrosnick says:

        My assumption is because Burnett is cheaper, better, and has a better upside. Also he cost virtually nothing at all in prospects, and the Astros probably wanted something other than just salary relief.

        Still, I’m shocked a team like the Sox couldn’t work out something out to bring him in as a fallback option for about $2-$3MM. And if the other rotation options do work out, shocker, you can move him to the ‘pen.

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      • gonfalon says:

        “Why is it the Yankees could get rid of Burnett for $13M/2, but the Astros can’t get rid of Myers for $11M/1 ?”

        Well, for starters Burnett has never been arrested for beating his wife :shrug:

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    • Jeff Meller says:

      There wasn’t a big market for Edwin Jackson, and he’s got more upside than Myers. It seems the Astros feel that the chance Myers repeats his 2010 performance is far lower than repeating 2011, and if he can establish himself as a sub-3.00 ERA closer, contending teams in 2012 will have more need for relief/flex help more than solely a 5th starter. Since they already have a set 1-4 rotation and options at 5th, including Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke, why not make the only one with previous closer experience, Myers, the closer? The Astros know they have no shot at the playoffs in 2012, so why not try to maximize the trade value of two players that won’t personally help their long-term success?

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    • Jason B says:

      “The thing I don’t get is that there are plenty of teams who could get value out of Brett Myers as an innings-eating starter, even if he’s league-average or worse.”

      Does he have value? Yes, to several teams. Are teams lining up to throw $10M at a player who might be “league-average or worse?” No.

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      • Bronson Arrojo says:

        “Are teams lining up to throw $10M at a player who might be “league-average or worse?” No.”

        I beg to differ, good sir!

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  5. Jeff Meller says:

    This is just like Billy Beane having Nick Swisher play quite a bit in CF during his final year with the A’s. It’s about improving value on the trade market before this August, especially since the team acquiring Myers would then either take up his 2013 option for $10m, or offer arbitration for far less and take what is likely type B draft compensation if he walks. Filling the closer role and opening up a spot in the rotation may have been the driving factor of this decision, but the Astros would do best to trade Myers this year to ensure they get useful pieces back to build the farm system.

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    • Terence says:

      The Astros aren’t giving bullpen innings to Myers at the expense of Lopez and Carpenter. They’re giving Myers bullpen innings at the expense of Enerio Del Rosario, Juan Abreau, and Fernando Rodriguez.

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      • bgrosnick says:

        But they’re giving high-leverage, high-visibility bullpen innings to Myers at the expense of Lopez and Carpenter.

        Who’s more valuable as a trade asset? Newly-minted closer David Carpenter ($500K, 6 years of team control) or newly-minted closer Brett Myers ($11M, one option year, no one has wanted him for two years)? Mark Melancon brought back a decent return, why couldn’t Carpenter do the same?

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      • Jeff Meller says:

        But it is about Lopez and Carpenter. Lopez is arbitration-eligible in 2013, and the last thing the Astros want is to have him with a collection of saves on his record at the end of 2012. Carpenter is still a few years away, but why throw a young kid with relatively little experience into a high pressure closer role that most likely won’t be used much this year? You have to be in the lead in the 9th for saves, and the Astros aren’t going to win a lot of games. Lopez, Carpenter, Del Rosario, Abreu, and Rodriguez will get plenty of innings from 5th-8th plus all the non-save 9th innings.

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      • bgrosnick says:

        To your point, Jeff…the logic behind thrusting a young kid into the high-pressure closer role is that when it works out (which happens often enough), you end up with a valuable trade asset (see Bailey, Melancon, Santos, etc.). And just because you’re a bad team doesn’t mean there are no saves to go around. By that same logic, it wouldn’t make a difference if Lopez is the closer, because he won’t get enough saves to make a huge difference in arb.

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      • Jeff Meller says:

        bg: Andrew Bailey had 3 years of proving closing experience before he was traded right before his 1st year of arbitration. Myers is already under contract this year, so maximize his value by July 31 and get something in return for a player you have no intention of keeping in 2013. I understand your point, but this is about what can be done this year to get the best return on value. Are teams really willing to give up a lot for a young player like Carpenter with half a year of closing experience, or would they be more willing to give up even more with a full year of solid setup work plus a full year in 2013 in the closer’s role? I’d bet the latter due to a more proven track record, even if he’s under control for 1 less year.

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      • Terence says:

        High-visibility? yes. High leverage? maybe, maybe not. By designating Myers as the closer, they might actually be able to use Lyon, Carpenter, and Lopez in higher leverage situations and not be hindered by the closer designation.

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      • bgrosnick says:

        Both of these last two comments are really good points.

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      • Jason B says:

        “they might actually be able to use Lyon, Carpenter, and Lopez in higher leverage situations and not be hindered by the closer designation.”

        Although why they would want to entrust higher-leverage situations to Brandon Lyon, no one knows for sure…

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  6. Richie says:

    If the Astros could’ve gotten anything of decent value for Starter Myers, they already would’ve. How is this not self-evident to all??

    So, make him your closer. When his rate stats inevitably improve, maybe you’ll fool somebody into thinking, “Myers has got his stuff back this year”. Or someone will become desperate for a closer.

    It’s a gamble, but obviously one worth trying given that they weren’t getting what they wanted for Myers before this.

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    • Jeff Meller says:

      Or a playoff-bound team with a proven closer simply wants an experienced veteran to handle solid relief help for 6-8th innings? Establishing Myers as a successful relief pitcher is far more valuable than a 2011-version 5th starter to these teams. Sure, it may not work if Myers posts a 4+ ERA with a multitude of blown saves, but the Astros won’t have lost much by this move. The rest of the young relief corp will still get their innings, and they won’t have more saves on their record when arbitration comes.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      Exactly. Two assumptions here: 1) relief pitchers will put up better numbers (ERA, K/IP, etc.) than starting pitchers, and 2) relief pitchers are less likely to get injured than starting pitchers.

      If/when Brett Myers looks impressive as a relief pitcher, then the worst case scenario is that some team out there will want to a) trade for him and either b) absorb a large chunk of his salary or c) give up one or more decent prospects for him. The best case scenario is that some team out there will say to itself, “Hey, if this guy is this good as a relief pitcher, then why can’t he be a solid #3/#4 starting pitcher, since he’s been a solid #3/#4 starting pitcher in the past?” In which case that team will absorb an even larger chunk of his salary and give up even better prospects.

      Smart strategy by Houston, in my opinion.

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  7. bflaff says:

    IIRC, Myers said (pretty often) that he preferred being the closer over starting once he had gotten the chance to do so in Philly. If he still feels that way, it may have played a role in this decision.

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  8. JoeS says:

    Cot’s contracts says “2013 option guaranteed based on 2012 performance”

    Does Myers need a certain amount of innings to get that guarantee? Could that be one reason the are moving him?

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  9. RMR says:

    Agreed that it’s a move to maximize his trade value. There are a number of teams that still belief in the “proven closer”. As a starter, he’s run of the mill and could get lost in the mix. As a reliever, he’s a better bet to have a good year and carries extra cache’ as a closer.

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  10. DCN says:

    Randy Myers?

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  11. Big Jgke says:

    Perhaps Myers just needed an opportunity to concentrate his punchouts. Short bursts of violence are probably easier on his minuscule brain than full games.

    Wait, why are we even talking about a POS wife-beater on a last-place team?

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  12. Hans says:

    Myers current salary is irrelevant to the Astros. It’s a sunk cost. If they’d rather have an open starting slot to try out guys than try out relievers, they should just use Myers wherever they prefer. The only relevance might be to trade value, but if he gets traded mid-season, his cost is cut massively anyway (and even if his option becomes guaranteed for next year, which it would have anyway as a starter, he can always be converted back).

    The Astros are so young and bad, they really have license to do whatever they think will get them closer in 2013, 2014 etc. Maybe it gives all their young guys more confidence that in the rare instance they have a lead there’s a guy they trust to close it out.

    At least they aren’t standing pat and they are willing to experiment a little from the bottom. The cost of “failure” in this move is almost zero for them.

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  13. West says:

    Myers is the Chris Brown of the MLB, I will continue to root for his failure.

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  14. reillocity says:

    As an Astros fan, I like this move because more innings will be allocated to younger starting pitchers to evaluate their potential, and as an offshoot the team will incur more losses increasing their chances of landing the 1st overall draft pick in 2013.

    As an Astros fan, I dislike this move because I will have to suffer through many painful innings pitched by the young (and journeyman) 3-4-5 starters and still more losses.

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  15. CJ says:

    Whether Myers is paid $5 or $11 million to be closer—that is irrelevant. His contract is a sunk cost regardless of the role he plays. I think the Astros have concluded that signing mediocre inning eater to replace Myers (Livan Hernandez) is cheaper than acquiring than a veteran closer. They can’t find a decent closer for the $600 K they will pay Livan. And I was never that wild about any of the existing Astros’ relievers taking over the closer position.

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    • Joe H. says:

      Myers’ cost isn’t irrelevant at all. This decision is all about the combination of figuring out what the franchise has and dropping the long-term $ / WAR. The Astros don’t have many chess pieces left on the board, but this is a smart move that should help the team figure out how best to move forward with a significant number of players. In all likelihood, the Astros increased Myers’ trade value and will be able to slot in 4 or 5 different minor league starters in his spot to see what kind of talent they have.

      As an Astros fan, this is a great sign of things to come. Very shrewd move by Lunhow & Co.

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  16. Bip says:

    Myers has a career 14% HR/FB, which is the reason his solid 47.5 GB% and 32.8 FB% seemingly has not worked in his favor at all. In fact, he’s always had decent K and BB numbers, and considering his good GB/FB numbers, if he had even a league average HR/FB rate, he’d be an above average starter, as his career 3.86 xFIP suggests. It’s not like pitching in Philadelphia and Houston means you’ll have a 14% HR/FB rate. What would cause this?

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    • CJ says:

      In 2010, Myers had a 8.5% Fly/HR ratio, and (not surprisingly) he had a terrific ERA. Last year, his Fly/HR ratio increased again to 13.5%, and he had a disappointing ERA. My best guess is that the probability is that his HR/fly rate will regress toward league average of 11% or so. Also, note that some of Myers’ highest fly/HR seasons (which affects his career average) occurred when he was injured or returning from injury in Philly.

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      • Bip says:

        He would have to have been returning from injury for basically his whole career in order to inflate what would be otherwise a league average HR/FB rate to 14%. League average is under 10% now, isn’t it?

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  17. Antonio Bananas says:

    What if they’re using the Athletics’ philosophy of creating the illusions of a more valuable pitcher by having him as a closer? Good closers are mediocre starters, so maybe there is a GM stupid enough to trade for Myers the closer.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Not only that, but maybe they realize that their young pitchers are mediocre and hope they put up a Vance Worley/JA Happ year and trade them for better prospects when their value is highest.

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  18. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    the Astros have ok pitching, so why not give the innings to a youngster. The offense will be dreadful, so you have to figure they lose most of Myers starts anyway.

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  19. Matty Brown says:

    Why? because they are the Houston Astros.

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  20. Neuter Your Dogma says:

    And there is no Ed Wade to blame *sigh*

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  21. skgator68 says:

    Y’all are brutal.

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  22. Linus Van Pelt says:

    “With Livan Hernandez as the safety blanket.”

    My safety blanket doesn’t seem so safe anymore, Charlie Brown…

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