When the Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals in 2012, it was all made possible because of the elite power prospect coming back from Kansas City; Wil Myers. He crushed his way through his rookie campaign, winning the Rookie of the Year despite only playing in 88 games. He hit for a 129 wRC+ thanks to a .293 batting average – although the .185 isolated slugging left some room for improvement, especially for someone with such high expectations. Being just 22 at the time, it seemed like something he was just ready to grow into.
Enter 2014, where Myers struggled to even stay above the Mendoza line, hitting only .222 with a 79 wRC+. Part was attributed to injury, and part also to him admitting to not working out very hard over the off-season. Either way, the Rays had seen enough of what was supposed to be a franchise cornerstone and shipped him out West. The Padres pulled him in with a three team trade that involved the Nationals, and returned to the Rays significantly less than what they gave up for Myers just two short years ago.
Things started well for Myers, but he faced more injury issues. However, when he was healthy he was hitting well, for a 116 wRC+, which is much more reminiscent of the hitter we saw in his initial debut. But by now the question was looming over him: if he could even stay healthy, have we already seen his best? Or does he have another gear to kick in?
Almost halfway into 2016 and it’s starting to look like the latter. Already a career high in home runs at 16 – although this comes with some type of asterisk since it’s only 19 fewer games played than his previous high, and he’s tearing up the ball consistently enough for a 136 wRC+. And despite playing in spacious Petco Park, his isolated slugging is exceptionally impressive; a .244 mark puts him 26th overall in the majors. Keep in mind this isn’t park adjusted, and Petco is the 8th hardest ballpark to hit for power as a righty, making it all the more impressive.
There are a few reasons on the surface as to why he’s playing so well. First and most obvious is that he’s actually healthy this season. Secondly is that there’s consistency again in his position and lineup spot. Back in St. Pete with the Rays he was juggled all around the outfield and lineup spots, as former manager Joe Maddon is prone to do and even more so with guys in slumps. Now he’s playing first everyday, and batting second almost every time as well.
Another thing we are seeing in his game that’s a little different, although featured some last year, is a decrease in strikeouts. His first two seasons he was striking out around 24% of the time with a 10.8% swinging strikeout percentage. The last two we’ve seen marks of 20% and 9.0%, respectively, noticeable decreases in both categories. This is partially driven by a more controlled swing, taking his swing percentage from 43% to 41%, and focusing more on pitches out of the zone where he dropped from a 28% chase rate to 25%. Over the course of entire seasons these add up mightily and give him an abundance of extra pitches in his wheelhouse to smash.
To get a more visual look at what’s helping him hit at such a torrid rate, let’s look at heatmaps of his slugging percentages from two time periods, debut through 2015, and then this season:
Interestingly enough, he’s hit better on outside pitches in the past years when he wasn’t as productive overall. But where he’s really tearing it up is down the heart of the plate, as well as down and inside, comparing this year to prior years. He’s more selective while at the dish, and he’s combining that with making sure that he’s hitting his pitch and not needing multiple chances.
Something that is still concerning long-term about Myers is the lack of success on the outer third. His swing has very little range of motion in his legs and midsection in a way where it’s hard for him to accurately drive the ball when it’s spotted there. This concern is quieted a bit considering how well he’s hitting the ball in other areas as well as a more disciplined approach, but it is still something to watch out for.
Overall, it’s easy to be excited about Wil Myers’ fulfilling the promise he had back a few years ago when he was a top three prospect in the league. The power is there, the contact is there, he’s been healthy, and even his defense has been good. He’d definitely a legit power hitter, although we are probably seeing the best of him right now. He may keep this pace up, but it’s a little more likely he finished just a shade under the current production, which seems to be where his real value is. If you can still buy low on someone who thinks it’s fluky, pull the trigger; Myers is a stud once again.
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