Sunday, December 05, 2004

2005 Dodgers: Brian Myrow

Last year's exile of Tanyon Sturtze to the Bronx yielded the Dodgers an oft-overlooked player with an ardent cult following in Brian Myrow. Myrow's profile resembles the Moneyball corollary to Steve Garvey. Whereas Garvey was hyped because of his overvalued batting average, his major market and playoff-bound team, and his good looks and media savvy, Myrow is the textbook stathead fetish: he walks more often than Jared from Subway (and in 2002 and 2003 also was hit by a bunch of pitches), he's considered too old to be a prospect, and he was stuck behind an overyhped "toolsy" prospect in Drew Henson for an organization (the Yankees) with an irrational fear of unproven players, even though he possessed the skills (a left-handed on-base machine with some pop) that the Yankees ostensibly covet. He screams undervalued, which perhaps creates the tendency among folks like us to overvalue him.

Myrow toiled with the independent Winnipeg Goldeyes for three years after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Michigan before the Yankees signed him. He raged through the Florida State League and the Eastern League over the next year and a half while playing second and third base, but Henson's presence in Columbus prevented him from being promoted. In his full year at AA in 2003, he was a monster: .306/.447/.525, good for a .266 major league equivalent average. When Aaron Boone went down, Myrow became the cause du jour for a select few Yankee fans, touting him as a superior candidate for the job than anything the Yankees were considering at that point. Predictably, the Alex Rodriguez trade foreclosed that option, since Myrow's defense at second base is, by all accounts, terrible. With Henson's return to football, Myrow was promoted to Columbus, but was moved to first base since his defense at third was not so great. He was somewhat disappointing for Columbus, hitting .268/.365/.433 for a MjEQA of .230. After being traded to the Dodgers, he tore it up with the 51's to the tune of .359/.444/.601 for a MjEQA of .269, playing some first base and some outfield in addition to reportedly learning how to play catcher. I don't know whether the disparity in his performance between Vegas and Columbus is indicative purely of small sample size, response to the different offensive environment disproportional to the reported league and ballpark effects, or intelligent thinking by the Las Vegas coaching staff and/or the Dodgers player development staff; his MjEQA for the year was .249, but there's some reason for optimism that the Vegas Myrow was a better indication of what to expect.

Currently, Myrow is playing for Escogido of the Dominican league, and he's leading the league in on-base percentage. Myrow turned 28 in September, so it's possible that he's already peaked, but it's not unreasonable to think he's a "late bloomer" with a different development curve. His defense probably won't be very useful, but his offense should at least hover around league average if he's finally awarded a cup of coffee.

I think that Myrow should probably be with the Dodgers for all of 2005, but somebody needs to sit Jim Tracy down and talk to him about what kind of commodity Myrow is. He can spot start at third or first, though that assignment should go to Olmedo Saenz if a southpaw is on the mound, assuming Saenz is brought back, and he might be capable of logging brief time in the outfield. He played some left field for Las Vegas last year, so if he starts to really smoke the ball he could be a platoon counterpart to Jayson Werth. Myrow will probably be used most, however, as a pinch hitter. What needs to be understood, however, is that there are different ways to use pinch hitters. Myrow's best skill is drawing walks; his batting average is unlikely to ever be league average and I wouldn't count on him showing a ton of power, although he's showing doubles power in the Dominican winter league. Fundamentally, Myrow is a guy you should turn to when you need to get a baserunner and avoid an out. So if the Dodgers have no one on or a runner on first base with a right-handed pitcher on the mound, Myrow's a good call; if there are runners in scoring position, especially with two out, the Dodgers would be better served with a line-drive, batting average type, particularly if weak-hitting players are due up. Looking at the Dodgers' roster, I'm not sure who fits that description (with the possible exception of an improved Jason Repko or Henri Stanley), so this idea might be for naught, but Myrow is precisely the kind of player whose value can be maximized by understanding what to expect.

If Myrow were simply inserted into the Jason Grabowski role, he could be very useful. Grabowski and Myrow are very similar; they're left-handed hitters who don't offer much in the way of defense who toiled in the minor leagues for a long time before getting a shot in the bigs until turning 28 (assuming Myrow does, indeed, get a shot at the bigs this season). Both have decent average and power while demonstrating above average ability to draw walks. But Myrow's performance in the minor leagues has been slightly better, and his current performance in the Dominican league leads me to believe he'd be a better option than Grabowski. Whether DePodesta can get something of value from some club for Grabowski is an interesting question, but if he can, it seems like a worthwhile move if the Dodgers pick up a left-handed fourth-outfielder, as various reports have suggested they might soon do.

Comments:
Dude -- Vegas is a high-elevation park in a high-elevation league. Look at the corrected park factors to get a better handle on this. I wouldn't trust Myrow's improvement in Vegas any more than I would Joe Thurston's .334 he hit there in 2002.
 
Umm, I'm not referring to his raw totals for the improvement, I'm referring to the park and league adjusted figures available at Baseball Prospectus. The difference between .268/.365/.443 and .359/.444/.601 is substantially greater than the difference between the Columbus and Vegas offensive environments; it might be true that left-handed hitters do disproportionately better in Vegas compared to Columbus (I don't know), but not to the extent to make up that much production. Based on 2003 data, Vegas had a park factor of 1012 and a league factor 1070 while Columbus had a 990 park factor and 986 league factor, meaning Myrow's raw figures could be expected to increase by 10.9%, when they actually increased by 27%. That's not just park factors, although as I said, it could be largely due to a sample size of ~180 PA in each locale.
 
Oh, and it should be noted that Thurston's 2002 was a) out of line with the rest of his career, unlike Myrow's 2004, and b) not in the same realm as Myrow's 2004-- .334/.372/.501 for Thurston versus .359/.444/.601 for Myrow.
 
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