The Myers/bullpen situation has the potential to become one of the more fascinating baseball subplots of the season, if only because it's such a rare occurrence that you see a top starter in his prime get moved out of the rotation. When I first heard of the move, I chortled, like a lot of people. But the more I've thought about what the move can accomplish, I actually wondered if it wasn't really the kind of forward-thinking club management that seemed completely anachronistic to the SOP for this team since I can remember.
What's important to consider, in this situation, is the true value of having an "ace" reliever, a role that should not be confused with "closer." Contrary to what a lot of people think, the ninth-inning is not automatically the most vital frame in a close baseball game, though it often is. What determines the most important inning, or cluster of innings, is leverage, a value explained by BP as such:
Leverage is calculated as the ratio of the impact of one additional run at a point in time to the impact of one additional run at the beginning of the game averaged over all plate appearances.
Essentially, measuring leverage is calculating how important scoring (or preventing) a run is in any given situation, weighted against the remaining number of outs for the team in question. Every out becomes more valuable as the game progresses, since there will be fewer subsequent opportunities to score. That's why such a premium is placed on having studs in late-inning roles; there's little question that the Padres' 2006 division title came down to the Linebrink-Meredith-Hoffman trio, as they combined to provide a little more than 13.5 additional wins over replacement level last season (according to BP's WXRL table), an astounding (and way, way, way league-leading) figure. However, most teams make do with one truly dominant arm in the 'pen, and that person is almost always the closer (except in the case of teams like the Indians, Tigers and Braves), who will almost always be deployed according to the following lightning-etched decrees:
1) Thou shalt not use thy closer prior to the eighth inning, and almost always in the ninth alone;
2) Thou shalt not use thy closer in games where ye are not to the fore; equalized games and one-run deficits are the realm of lesser men;
3) Thou shalt not use thy closer in games where ye are to the fore by more than three runs.
Conveniently, almost all situations within these parameters constitute high-leverage situations, with the exception of three-run leads against non-juggernaut teams. They also encompass all situations in which a "save" can be awarded. Which, if you're a fantasy leaguer, is about the only thing one can expect of value from a bullpen arm. But like most pitching stats that are part of the 5x5 roto structure, saves are bad at assessing the value of a reliever, not to mention closer. For the sake of focus, I'll leave that for another day.
What is important to note is that just because almost all save situations are high-leverage situations as well, not all high-leverage situations are save situations. Often, games hinge on events that take place in the seventh and eighth innings, situations in which teams are often willing to either let a tiring starter continue to work or bring in a reliever who is not the best available arm. This is almost always a bad strategy, particularly when the situation is charged with high-leverage variables.
It's the seventh-inning, and your team currently leads by one run. There is one out, but runners are on second and third and Albert Pujols is coming to the plate (which means that this isn't a situation where a LOOGY can be of use). In your bullpen, you have two relievers to decide between:
Reliever A: .30 DERA, 2.8 K/BB, 1.265 WXRL
Reliever B: 5.97 DERA, 0.5 K/BB, .118 WXRL
Easy decision, right? But the problem is that Reliever A is Jonathan Papelbon and B is Mike Timlin. While Tito's proven to be one of the more progressive managers in the majors, it's a reach to think he'd put Papes out there in the seventh, even though this is very clearly the turning point of the game. And if Tito wouldn't do it, sure as shit there ain't another manager in the majors who would.
The point of this exercise wasn't so much a rant about bullpen misuse; it's within this matrix that I think the Phillies can benefit. Tom Gordon is the team's "closer," even though he's probably the second-best reliever in the 'pen. I think this is a massively liberating situation for the Phillies, since they can now utilize Myers (presumably the bullpen's ace) in the highest-leverage situations possible, no matter what inning it comes in. If the Phillies have a two-run lead in the ninth against the Fish, let Gordon pitch: the odds of the Phillies winning in that situation are fairly staggering no matter who's on the bump. If Myers isn't penciled in for that ninth-inning-only role, he can then be deployed in those situations where his team most needs a high-strikeout bullpen ace. This kind of use -- not shifting him to closer -- would most likely give the Phillies the best possible increase in overall win expectancy, not to mention freedom to deploy the bullpen in more creative methods.
Unfortunately, all of this is strictly hypothetical, since there's no way the chimps in charge of the Phillies will ever utilize this kind of gambit with Myers, as evidenced by how they've used him so far. But if we could somehow get Charlie Manuel to flip spots with Manny Acta, and then buy Acta a BP Premium membership, this could be really interesting.