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September 2, 2010

Seidnotes

A Streak of Myers

by Eric Seidman

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When the Astros signed Brett Myers to a low-risk contract as a free agent in the off-season, the type of reward that could potentially be had was unknown. Though the actual signing itself was about as predictable as the Nationals selecting Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in the amateur draft a few months earlier—Astros GM Ed Wade seems to religiously sign ex-Phillies or Phillies farmhands—Myers was coming off of a few fairly enigmatic seasons. From 2003-06, he seemed like the future of the Phillies' rotation, a big-framed and durable righty who threw hard and also featured nasty breaking stuff. He could miss bats and remain accurate with each of his offerings but was yet to overwhelm the opposition. He would not get a chance to take a step forward the following season, either.

Because of his bulldog attitude and nasty repertoire, as well as an injury to Tom Gordon, he spent the better portion of the 2007 season as the Phillies' closer, helping them reach the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The next season Myers returned to the rotation and produced league-average numbers across the board, before falling prey to the injury bug in 2009 and splitting time in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Suffice to say, inquiring minds were not sure what the future held for Myers, who had proven himself successful in both roles. All told, he entered the 2010 season as a 29-year old pitcher who had come nowhere near reaching his vast potential. Heck, Myers himself probably didn’t even know what interested suitors had in mind. In our 2010 Baseball Prospectus annual, we even derived a term to describe pitchers similar to Myers:

“Thomas Wolfe wrote that if a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. That phrase aptly sums up the career to date of Brett Myers, a pitcher with the potential to dominate who, for one reason or another, has never put it all together in the same season. He has always shown just enough to keep hope alive, but seeing as his ERA has risen every season since 2005, the Phillies decided the time had come to part ways with the temperamental hurler. At 28 years old and with a decent albeit disappointing set of skills, Myers could still break out and fulfill his promise, but barring a significant change in approach or in his repertoire, he's destined to be a frustrating league-average pitcher (a FLAP?).”

Fast-forward to the end of August, and after Myers held the Mets scoreless over seven innings of work, his ERA dropped to 2.97, and he had become the ace of the Astros staff with a lucrative contract extension worked out. FLAP that! Additionally, his seven innings of work meant something else, in that Myers extended his season-long streak of starts with six or more innings pitched to, well, all of them. Seriously, he has toed the rubber on 27 different occasions this season and in none of them has he been lifted prior to completing six innings. In the process, he established an Astros record, breaking the mark of 26 straight by Larry Dierker. The latter pitcher, however, accomplished his feat over two seasons—1969-70. Now, Myers doesn’t have the statistical resume or complete games total of Roy Halladay or the value-laden metrics of a Adam Wainwright, Mat Latos, or Josh Johnson, but Myers has largely been flying under the radar for a dreadful team, living up to his potential in the process.

My goal here is not to wax poetic on Myers but rather to explore the streak from a few different angles. How rare is it? Who has the highest percentage of six-plus-inning starts in the wild-card era? Who has the lowest percentage? Yes, this is the type of stuff I think about in my down time.

For starters, streaks like this are incredibly rare in this day and age. Few will argue against Halladay being the best pitcher in the National League this yea,r and yet even he can’t boast such a feat. Halladay has made 28 starts and gone six or more innings in 27, lasting 5 2/3 innings against the Red Sox on May 23. Wainwright is usually lumped alongside Halladay these days, and yet of his 28 starts, three have involved fewer than six innings. Even if we go back to, say, the fantastic 1998 season of Greg Maddux or the insane 1997 and 1999 seasons for Pedro Martinez, we won’t find similar streaks. It is just very difficult, for a multitude of reasons, to accomplish such a feat.

The main reason would be health. Pitchers break down and could randomly succumb to an injury during a game. On the flip side, perhaps a starter only goes five innings in his first couple of games back from a disabled list stint. Another reason would be effectiveness as pitchers are not usually left on the mound to allow a ton of runs. When a pitcher produces a 6 IP-7 ER line, it looks jarring, because it is uncommon. If a pitcher allows that many runs he is usually lifted beforehand. Myers, for instance, has one game in which he allowed seven runs and a couple of other 6 IP-4 ER specials. For the most part, however, he has been very, very good this season. Another reason is weather—a rain delay that lasts a substantial amount of time will usually prevent a pitcher from returning when the skies clear. There is just as much out of a pitcher’s control as there is in his control relative to accomplishing such a feat.

Has anyone in the wild-card era pitched six or more innings in every start of the season? Note that the year filter is set to the wild card era since it was obviously common in years past for starters to stay in the game. The table below shows the top 10 6+ IP/GS percentages from 1995-2009:

Name

Year

GS

GS w/6+ IP

%

Curt Schilling

2002

35

35

1.000

Roger Clemens

1997

34

33

.971

Pat Hentgen

1996

35

34

.971

Randy Johnson

1999

35

34

.971

Curt Schilling

1998

35

34

.971

Roy Halladay

2008

33

32

.970

Pedro Martinez

1997

31

30

.968

David Cone

1995

30

29

.967

Randy Johnson

1995

30

29

.967

Randy Johnson

1997

29

28

.966

David Cone and Pat Hentgen might be surprising to an extent, but remember that the latter won the Cy Young Award that season, and Cone was pretty darn effective, too, producing a 3.57 ERA in 229 1/3 innings. Interestingly enough, these 10 pitchers are the only ones since 1995 and with at least 25 starts, who were either perfect or off by one start. Myers is likely to get about five or six more starts the rest of the way, and if he lasts six innings in each of them he will tie Schilling’s mark, though his raw tally would be lower. What about the opposite? Which pitchers with at least 25 starts over the last decade and a half have lasted six innings the least amount of time?

Name

Year

GS

GS w/6+ IP

%

Aaron Sele

2003

25

6

.240

Kris Benson

2002

25

7

.280

Ramon Martinez

2000

27

8

.296

Al Leiter

2005

26

8

.308

And if we up the ante to 30 or more or starts, here are the lowest percentages:

NAME

YEAR

GS

GS w/6+ IP

%

Chris Young

2005

31

10

.323

Jose Lima

2005

32

11

.344

Ismael Valdez

2004

31

11

.355

Matt Chico

2007

31

12

.387

Zack Greinke

2005

33

13

.394


So there you have it. The highest percentage belongs to Curt Schilling’s “perfect” 2002 season, while the lowest belongs to either Aaron Sele or Chris Young, depending upon the desired games started minimum. Regardless of whether or not Myers manages to match Schilling percentage-wise, he is going to finish this season with very solid numbers, establishing himself as a true front-of-the-rotation pitcher, signed to a team-friendly contract. The Astros might not be relevant even with his efforts, but it is always good to see a pitcher shake free of FLAP status, even if local grocers suffer declines in their sales of Maalox. Here’s to hoping that Myers accomplishes this feat, so that even if a Triple Crown doesn’t occur, we can still witness baseball history this year… on 1/1000th of the scale.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

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