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.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.