The Astros aren't exactly a success, but they certainly aren't a failure. We bet you didn't see that coming.
Last season, the Twins won 63 games and were widely acknowledged to be a total disaster. But the Twins were baseball’s second-worst team. The Astros were on another level of awful. They won only 56 games, the lowest total of any team since the 2005 Royals. They were the NL’s worst pitching team and the NL’s worst defensive team, and they weren’t much good at offense, either.
That level of futility wasn’t foreseeable. In order to be as awful as they were last season, the Astros had to decline by a whopping 20 wins. In the 1982 Abstract, Bill James observed that a team that declines in one year is likely to improve the next. He called it the Plexiglas Principle.* In most cases, we’d expect a team that fell off by as much as the Astros to bounce back the following year. But the Astros weren’t most cases, and they weren’t supposed to bounce. They were supposed to break through the glass and fall even further.
We shouldn't jump to conclusions about the Astros' decision to move Brett Myers to the bullpen.
By most accounts, owner Jim Crane and general manager Jeff Luhnow have had a strong first offseason with the Astros, putting in place the foundation on which a Houston contender can eventually be built.
Just a week into his tenure, Luhnow sent closer Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. The move drew praise from the baseball community, as the Astros gained a potential everyday infielder and cost-controlled starter in exchange for a reliever. Melancon has great stuff and is under team control for five more years, but he held limited value to the rebuilding Astros, and Luhnow took advantage of a team in need.
Brett Myers has put together an interesting string of starts in his first season with the Astros.
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:
The Phillies' newfound depth in the rotation might give the club another springboard for post-season success.
The Boston Red Sox entered the season with a surplus of starting pitchers under contract, some of whom were considered to be locks in the rotation, with others serving as insurance policies, spot starters, or deadline chits. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Daisuke Matsuzaka were considered locks, and the final two spots were to split up between Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny, Clay Buchholz, John Smoltz, and Justin Masterson. What a difference a few months make. Dice-K has disappointed and attributed issues to training regimens lost in translation. Wakefield landed on the disabled list with back issues after getting his invitation to the All-Star Game. Penny has shown signs of life but is in the midst of a flaky, up-and-down campaign. Smoltz performed poorly enough that the team actually felt it necessary to sign Paul Byrd, and Masterson joined the Tribe as the main attraction in their return on Victor Martinez. Suffice to say, best-laid plans as they pertain to starting pitching depth are in no way guaranteed to come to fruition, and an abundant supply can become scarce almost overnight.
Brett Myers prevailed over Brewers' ace CC Sabathia by working both sides of the game.
PHILADELPHIA-Brett Myers had retreated to the Phillies' clubhouse after a 20-minute post-game interrogation from the media in the interview room, and then he stood at his locker and made small talk with a few reporters. "All everyone wanted to talk about was my hitting," the right-hander said with a shake of his head. "Didn't anyone realize I pitched tonight, too?"