Grading Wil Myers’ Rookie Year
By Robbie Knopf
For Rays fans, 2013 was going to be the year of Wil Myers. After acquiring the highly-regarded outfield prospect in the James Shields trade in December, it was going to be only a matter of time before Myers broke into the Rays lineup and presumably took baseball by storm. At the end of the day, did he manage to do that?
Overall, Myers’ numbers during his time in the major leagues was very good. Myers hit to a .293/.354/.478 line (132 OPS+) with 23 doubles, 13 homers, 53 RBI, and 5 stolen bases in 373 plate appearances. For the curious, that is 37 doubles, 21 homers, and 85 RBI per 600 PA’s. There is no way to look at those numbers and say that Wil Myers was a disappointment. Yet there are plenty of things that we have to nitpick about because at the end of the day, 2013 is done and what matters the most is not how Myers performed this season but how he will do in future years.
The place to start is the area of most concern for Myers’ entering the season, his strikeouts. Myers wound up striking out in 24.4% of his plate appearances, a ratio similar to Josh Hamilton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Justin Upton. To be fair, Evan Longoria was in that same range as well and Myers walked noticeably more than Hamilton and Cespedes. Even so, however, his strikeout to walk ratio of 93-31 on the year cannot be viewed as a positive development. Myers had not just games but weeks where he would continuously look foolish against opposing pitchers’ secondary pitches. According to Brooks Baseball, Myers had an above-average propensity to swing and miss against breaking pitches, and Fangraphs had him at 3.0 runs below average against curveballs. The anecdotal evidence seems a lot more concerning than its statistical equivalent, but even if Myers is not so bad against breaking balls and changeups on the whole, it took him time to adjust when pitchers figured out how to attack him and during that time, he did nothing at all to help the Rays. Myers had stretches of 3 for 24 and 2 for 31 in half a season of play, and while every player has their slumps, when Myers isn’t hitting, he looks especially bad.
Longoria had plenty of slumps as well–you are never going to find a player who does not experience bad stretches. Unlike Longoria, however, Myers doesn’t walk enough to remain productive when he isn’t hitting. Longoria had a 5 for 40 slump, but he also walked 12 times during that span. In Myers’ 2 for 31 nosedive, he walked just once. The bigger difference, though, is on defense: Longoria is a plus defender while Myers was average in right field in 2013 if you are being kind. His dropped flyball in the ALDS left a bad taste in our mouths, entirely shifting the momentum of the ALDS to help lead the Red Sox to victory, and while no player is as bad as his worst moment, Myers’ defense was a concern throughout the year. Myers did not make an error, but DRS had him at -3 runs saved while UZR put him at -0.9. It is not as though Myers is a total train-wreck in right field, but it was all the little things that drove you insane: taking weird paths to flyballs, not setting his feet correctly on potential tag-up plays, and exhibiting poor decision-making in regards to when to dive and when not to. Myers’ moves well enough in right field to have above-average range and has a strong enough arm to throw some runners out trying to advance. Instead, Myers had a -0.5 range rating as part of UZR and could not manage a single outfield assist on a runner advancing to third or home on a flyball in over 600 innings in centerfield. However, Myers was playing right field full-time for the first time ever and was in the outfield for just the second season, and the fact that he managed near-average defense on the whole is nothing to scoff at.
Wil Myers was not expected to come to the major leagues a finished product. He was a 22 year old working to cut down on his strikeouts and improve defensively in right field, and the Rays hoped that his talent would outweigh his flaws he had yet to address. At the end of the day, he certainly did. Myers stepped into the lineup of one of the best teams in baseball and proceeded to emerge as a middle-of-the-order hitter already. He needs to develop more, but while that does add risk to his profile, it also means that Myers can be so much better than this. Myers’ rookie year was not a dream, but it give us exactly the type or results we were expecting and something more. Myers’ rookie year did not change our view of him too dramatically, only showing us the first step of what will be a gradual process. But his potential is so obviously there, and confirming that he has the aptitude to turn his talents into results should leave fans very optimistic about where Myers goes from here.