If there is a topic that no Rays fan wants to discuss right now, it’s Wil Myers‘ tendency to strike out. In exchange for Myers, the Rays had to give up the most dependable starter in the history of their franchise, James Shields. The Rays gave up the most reliable pitcher they have ever had for a player who strikes out too much at Triple-A?
Last year, there plenty of excuses made for Myers’ 140 strikeouts. The uptick in strikeouts came with a huge increase in power as he slammed 37 home runs in 591 plate appearances after hitting just 27 in 1053 plate appearances the previous three years. We heard that Myers struck out more because he was making a conscious effort to be more aggressive at the plate and hit for more power, and that he would be fine moving forward. But what about this year? So far in 2013, Myers’ Triple-A numbers are downright mediocre. He has just a .264/.359/.411 line with 5 doubles, 4 homers, and 23 RBI in 34 games and a 153 plate appearances. Scariest of all, though, is that he has struck out 45 times, 29.4% of his plate appearances, while walking just 19 times. His strikeout to walk ratio of 2.37-to-1 is nearly identical to his 2.30-to-1 mark from last year–this problem isn’t going away–and now he’s not hitting for any power. Is it time for serious concern? According to one evaluator, yes. Here’s what a scout told Jason Churchill of ESPN Insider:
"One scout told me late last month that Myers’ propensity to swing and miss is his only weakness, but it may be enough to keep him from star status, or even a call-up this summer."
Is Wil Myers a bust at this point? Absolutely not. But doesn’t every day Myers struggles seem to make increasingly likely that he will fail to meet expectations? Will Wil Myers ever become that star outfielder the Rays thought they were getting or will he turn into a role player in the major leagues if anything at all?
Calm down. We’re not at that point yet. Myers has gotten off to a rough start to the year, and don’t read too much into an early-season slump. Most interestingly, though, has been his plate discipline over the early goings this year. In his first ten games of the season, Myers’ strikeout to walk ratio was an outstanding 11-9. In his first 18 games, it was still solid at 22-13. But in his last 16 games since then, he’s down to just 23-6. What’s happening? It seems pretty clear that Myers loses his plate discipline when he gets into a slump and that is what’s happening. We can have a chicken-and-the-egg discussion about whether Myers’ poor plate discipline caused his slump or vice versa, but we’ve seen before how his plate discipline looked just fine earlier in the season before his recent slump. When Myers gets back on track, he will walk more and his strikeout rate will get a lot lower. Let’s wait for Myers to break out and see what happens to his plate discipline then before we rush to judgement.
There’s other point that has to be touched on: just because Myers swings and misses too much, will that prevent him from being a star? Only one well-regarded MLB outfielder had a strikeout to walk ratio in a season like Myers did last year: Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. In 2007 between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, Bruce struck out 147 times while drawing 35 walks. The comparison actually goes a little farther as Bruce and Myers have very similar body types, both being 6’3″ and Bruce weighing 215 while Myers weighs 205. Both have great power, a little speed, and play solid defense. In his MLB career, Bruce has been somewhat enigmatic but has still hit for great power, hitting 20 or more home runs in each of his five years in the major leagues and 30 or more in the last two. He has a .256/.329/.478 line (112 OPS+) overall, but a .262/.340/.493 line (120 OPS+) from 2010 to 2012. And so far in 2013, Bruce’s numbers look a little bit like Myers’ as he has managed a .258/.306/.403 line with 12 doubles, 3 homers, and 23 RBI, striking out an NL-leading 52 times while walking 11 times. Overall, Jay Bruce is not a star, instead being a very good player who has his limitations, not hitting for much average or geting on base at a great clip, and basically being defined as a streaky home run hitter. Bruce’s level of performance seems like the 50th percentile for Myers, the point where he wouldn’t be a bust but would not be a bust but wouldn’t be a star either. At the end of the day, though, if Wil Myers turns into Jay Bruce, the Rays will not be infuriated–they will still end up with a pretty good players on their hands.
Bruce isn’t the only star outfielder in baseball in baseball who strikes out a little too much without good plate discipline. You have Josh Hamilton, Curtis Granderson, Matt Kemp, Alex Gordon, Carlos Gonzalez, and even Adam Jones, and then there’s a class of players just below them like Torii Hunter, Hunter Pence, and Andre Ethier. Even if strikeouts will be a flaw for Myers moving forward, as long as it doesn’t affect his power and he still hits for a good average, he could very well become a star nevertheless. The player who might be the interesting comp for Myers, though, could be Jason Bay.
Bay was another top prospect who was traded, heading from the Padres to the Pirates for Brian Giles, and Bay turned into the NL Rookie of the Year in 2004. That year, Bay managed a .282/.358/.550 line (132 OPS+) with 24 doubles, 26 homers, and 82 RBI, but his big flaw was that he struck out 129 times versus only 41 walks. In subsequent years, though, Bay’s plate discipline improved significantly as he walked 80 times four of the next five seasons, and Bay had himself an outstanding run as a major league player, managing a .280/.375/.519 line with an average of 31 doubles, 30 homers, 99 RBI, and 10 stolen bases per season from 2004 to 2009. If Myers became as good of a player as Bay used to be, the Rays would have no complaints at all. Bay’s example may be even important, though, because it shows how a player can begin his career without much plate discipline but develop it as he becomes more accustomed to the big league game. Maybe Myers could do the same.
Will Wil Myers become a star for the Rays in the coming years? There’s no way we can answer that question right now, but it’s certainly in the realm of possibility that he can. The easiest way for him to do that would be to cut down on the strikeouts significantly, but even if he improves only slightly he can still be an excellent player. Myers has more work to do in the minor leagues over the next few months as the Rays make sure that he’s entirely ready before bringing him to the major leagues. And strikeouts or not, there is every reason to believe that he will be worth the wait.