Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Scouting Report: Phillies at Nationals (7/29)

Phillies at Nationals: Tuesday, July 29 at 7:10 ET
The Nationals limp home from a miserable road trip to face the Phillies and their drunken, wife-beating lout of a would-be ace. (I promise, everything else from here on out will be about on-field baseball analysis only.) Here's my take on game 1.

Pitching match-up
Brett Myers: What on earth has happened to Brett Myers? First he was an all-star starter. Then he was an all-star closer. Then Lidge came to Philly, and he became a starter again. And he stinks. He has a 5.82 ERA and is giving up home runs at a historic pace. When he was effective, he did it with a great curve, a very good groundball-inducing two-seam fastball, and a second breaking pitch that was sometimes a slider and sometimes a cutter (if I hadn't just written a somewhat prissy post about baseball etiquette I might be tempted to call this pitch a slutter). He throws a minus change that should be used as a show-me pitch only.

One issue is that his velocity is down. In the past, his fastball has been around 92, touching 94-95 on occasion. When the season started he was throwing 87-88. He's been throwing the slider more to compensate. By his last start, he was back throwing 90-91, but he still isn't quite there.
It's not clear why. Everyone with the Phillies insists he's not hurt. There was some talk early in the year that he refused to take long-toss warm-up exercises and that this could have affected his velocity. Who knows. Regardless, to me, this doesn't explain a 2-run jump in ERA, especially since an 89 mph fastball still gives him 10-11 mph difference with his plus-curve. That should be enough to at least keep him out of AAA.

Here's the thing: his K/9 and GB/FB rates aren't quite what the were, but is still well withing the range of ok. That tells me that his stuff is basically still pretty effective. His walk rate is a bit of a problem (10.7%), but again nothing that should drive him out of the league. The number that really jumps out at you is the HR/FB rate: 20%. That's double the league average, and that's generally a function of bad luck more than skill. The other stat that jumps out is that he has a gigantic strong-side platoon split--righties are hitting a huge .975 OPS off Myers--that's almost ARod territory. For his career, he has a slight reverse split, but nothing like that.

Looking deeper at the numbers, I notice that the control problems really only emerged after May 1. At that point, he had an excellent 2.2 BB/9 (actually a career-best pace). All his other peripherals were fine then too, but he had a 5.11 ERA, mainly because he'd given up 10 HR--again that HR/FB rate. Since then his BB/9 ballooned to 5.2. That's a number that will make you an Iron Pig.

Here's my theory: the change back to starting planted some doubts. Then the velocity was down a bit--nothing that should have been crippling, but enough to raise more doubts. Then he had quite a bit of bad luck on the HRs, and he panicked. I've never met the guy, but somehow I get the sense that he's not the most balanced person. So he got off his game plan, started throwing the slider more, not trusting the fastball. He doesn't have the command of that pitch to throw it 20% of the time, and suddenly the walks started to pile up. I'm guessing that
the slider/cutter is a more hittable pitch for righties, especially if he's missing up.

Baseball Prospectus on May 3 quoted Phils pitching coach Rich Dubee saying, "we talked about getting away from the cutter and throwing more fastballs and throwing more curveballs because of the separation between the speeds. But he got away from that game plan for whatever reason." Myers: "I'm lost throwing 88 mph. I'm thinking I'm still a fastball pitcher because I usually am. But right now I'm going to other crap earlier than I want to. Right now I'm pitching backward." The thing is, he never really was a huge power pitcher. He was a sinkerballer, and he threw 92, which doesn't make him a soft-tosser, but it's the separation between the fastball and the curve that gets guys out, and he still had plenty. And there's nothing wrong with pitching backward, unless you're not confident in it.

So there you have it. Myers explained. When the game starts, check the scoreboard for velocity. If it's at 91 or 92, that's bad for us. But even more, pop open Gameday and count how many sliders he throws and watch the walks. If the Nationals knock Myers around, he could be an Iron Pig for the rest of 2008.

Of course, that might all be totally wrong, in which case I have two other theories: 1. he's tipping his pitches, and 2. he's off the juice.

Collin Balester: After that whole thing, I don't have the energy to write any more about pitching. Read my last thing about Balester. It all still applies. I'd only add that we caught the ball for him last time out and he did ok--3 runs in 5 IP. All I'm going to say is that if Lo Duca doesn't field his position for Balester, I'll be the one leading my section in "We Want Rhinehart!!" chants.

What To Look For
Is Willie Harris running out of gas? He's never really been an every day player. He started most of the year for the White Sox in 2004, and then the Braves tried to make him their everyday CF last year. He wore down badly last year, hitting .342 in the first half and .214 in the second. For a little guy like this, you just wonder if he can hold up. Over his last four starts he's hitting .143. Manny might be wise to work in a couple starts a week for Langerhans or Casto.

Zimmerman, Milledge, Kearns, Lopez and Lo Duca have all destroyed Myers in their careers.

Was Milledge rushed back? He hit .077 in Columbus on rehab. Since he's been back he has 1 infield hit in three games. I haven't seen any evidence that he's favoring the groin, but it doesn't seem like his timing is back. Did our ever-so-patient GM pull the trigger early?

Wither Guzzy? I know he's always (read: never) been an iron man; will this be yet another injury that starts day to day and becomes a DL stint? And here's a commenter challenge: can anyone tell me a reasonably easy way to figure out how many games Manny's been short-handed this year? I'm guessing he's had a full roster of 25 healthy guys for maybe 30 games.

What's Manny going to do? Is it time for one of his patented cure-all team meetings? He needs to do something to take the pressure off the guys who matter for the future--Bergmann, Balester, Zimmerman...

Fearless Prediction
(Season record: 4-2, one bull's eye)
Well Christ, I've picked them to lose 4 times and to win twice. Guess how I got my 4-2 record. I want to say that they'll beat up on Myers, but I kinda think it's Balester who's in trouble facing the Phillies' lineup. I'm guessing 8-3 Phillies.


phil dunn said...

Phils 8, Nats 3?? Boy, are you dreaming. That's a tall task for a team that is totally incapable of scoring even one run.

Steven said...

Game's not over yet, Phil.

Section 222 said...

Gee, if a half of your prediction was right (our 3 runs), we would have won the game. What a sad state of affairs.

Steven said...

I might have been swayed a bit by wishful thinking. But if you look at what I said to look for with Myers, he was throwing 93 and only walked one. That was the Myers of old out there tonight. If he keeps pitching like that he'll shut down a lot of teams down the stretch. I know you don't want to hear that, but unlike Barry Zito and Kevin Correia, this guy actually did pitch pretty good.

I take heart in our young pitching. Balester, Bergmann, and Hanrahan are all very nice developments. Maybe Bowden should tell Collin that he didn't really mean it when he said "I don't care if you pitch well if you aren't getting wins" or whatever that quote was.