After a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2013, Wil Myers was a fantasy darling heading into 2014. He flashed big time power, good contact ability and had a lockdown on playing time in the outfield. But something funny happened on the way to superstardom for Wil. Instead of mashing his way to Minneapolis for the All-Star Game, he’s floundering around the bottom third of the Rays’ lineup, hitting a minuscule .228/.305/.355 with just 5 bombs. This is the kind of performance that sends players back to the minors, even with his huge prospect pedigree that helped the Royals land James Shields in exchange for him. So what happened to turn the young stud into a replacement level player?
One of the most defining parts of Wil Myers is his distinct swing. He clears his hips cleanly with fully extended arms, neither are new ideas but rarely are seen together in this way. But Myers has had issues with his swing, having a hard time making solid contact on anything low, in or out of the zone, and struggling to hit the outside third. Pitchers generally attack hitters low and away, so with Myers up they look to exploit this issue even further.
As you can tell from the chart, pitchers aren’t just targeting low and away, they’ve pretty much abandoned all other locations. Wil has tried to counter their attacks by biting on less pitches, bringing his swing percentage down from 45.7% to 42.7%. But pitchers have an answer for that as well, getting ahead more often by throwing first pitch strikes 63.6% of the time, and increase of 4.9 percentage points since 2013 and 3.5 points above league average. Opposing pitchers have also stopped throwing him as many four-seam fastballs, the pitch he has the most success with, and have replaced it with secondary fastballs, such as two seams, sinkers and cutters. The better mix of pitches has brought his batting average against four seams down to only .222, with just a .370 slugging percentage against. Pitchers have managed to neutralize his favorite pitch, and he’s not adjusting well.
Myers doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a power hitter from his batted ball profile. He hits an above average number of balls into the ground, 47.3%, which makes it tough for him to hit enough fly balls to go out for extra bases and homers. His strong ground ball tilt has become predictable, as well as his tendency to pull the ball to the third base side of the infield. With technology increasing to track hit balls, and managers becoming more willing to shift their infielders, pull hitter like Myers are having a tougher time getting hits. Look below at his spray chart over his career:
Just about everything is in shortstop and third base territory, with a few going to the second baseman, and the first baseman can take a nap. Teams are picking up on these things quicker than ever, and look how the Yankees responded to him on May 2nd this year:
Hard shift to the left, three infielders on the third base side. For someone who pulls so many grounders, it’s no wonder his average on balls in play has dropped from .362 to .284. It’s not easy for hitters to suddenly start hitting grounders the other way, and seeing a hitter who can do so, like Derek Jeter, is rare and takes special talent. Teams will keep shifting on him until he can either learn to hit around it or bunt enough to keep them honest. Or maybe he learns to hit even with the shift on. Myers is an extremely gifted hitter, despite his trouble so far in 2014, and some hitters have been able to simple hit through the shift, like David Ortiz. He still may not adjust, and settle for trying to hit homers with a lower batting average, the same thing Mark Teixeira did.
Wil Myers is having an extreme sophomore slump, struggling to do much of anything at the plate. His lack of success so far has been fueled by some poor adjustments, bad batted ball profiles and a lack of power. There’s still tons of hope for him, being so young and so talented, but there are also very real issues with him. Myers is in a real hole, and he has a long way to go before he can dig himself back out.