The outfield is the only spot other than pitcher in which the Tampa Bay Rays have a surplus, and it seems inevitable that they will deal from it. Matt Joyce and David DeJesus have emerged as the most likely candidates to be dealt, and Desmond Jennings could even be moved in the right trade. However, there is another Rays outfielder with the ability to generate as much interest as the three of them combined if he was made available: Wil Myers.
In discussing the Rays’ latest trade talks, Marc Topkin describes Wil Myers as being “possibly in play.” Realistically, that means that they are willing to listen to offers on him, but are unlikely to trade him. It is pretty clear that the Rays would rather deal a player like Joyce instead considering his lesser talent and team control. Nevertheless, after Myers struggled mightily in 2014, the idea of trading him is not as crazy as it used to be.
If the Rays dealt Myers, their outfield situation would still look quite promising. Against right-handed pitching, they could have Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, and Kevin Kiermaier from right to left with Nick Franklin at second base and David DeJesus at DH.
Versus lefties, meanwhile, four of the five positions we just mentioned could be filled by Jennings, Zobrist, Brandon Guyer, and Logan Forsythe. For the fifth spot, Kiermaier and Franklin could alternate starts as they both hope to prove themselves against left-handed pitching. This arrangement will not look as good with Zobrist likely out the door after 2015, but players like Mikie Mahtook and Ryan Brett could be ready to make up the difference by then.
When we look at simply the Rays’ outfield without Myers, a trade looks quite plausible. But here’s the issue: none of the players we have mentioned can match Myers’ ability to be a force at the plate. After the 2013 season, Myers looked like the next Evan Longoria, a franchise player with the ability to take the Rays to further heights. Can the Rays really give up on Myers just one year later?
Wil Myers fell apart entirely in 2014, hitting to just a .222/.294/.320 line (77 OPS+). Part of the blame for that rests on the wrist injury that sidelined him for nearly three months, but we certainly can’t use that as an excuse for all of his issues. The eye test showed–and Brooks Baseball confirms–that pitchers unremittingly attacked Myers with breaking balls below the zone, especially down and away, and he was unable to adjust to them.
Myers’ strikeout to walk ratio in his rookie year was quite similar to Longoria’s, but Myers could not match Longoria’s improved plate discipline from his second year. Myers’ difficulty with curveballs and sliders was not a matter of a hole in his swing, but instead a poor overall approach between overaggressiveness and pull-happy tendencies.
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When pitchers are attacking him with breaking pitches on the outside corner, a hitter’s intuitive response should be to start taking those offerings to the opposite field. Remember Myers’ first career home run, an oppo grand slam off CC Sabathia? We know that Myers has power to right field, and he showcased it with an insane 1.268 OPS on balls hit to the opposite field in 2013, 140% better than the league average. This past season, however, he managed just six hits to right field off sliders and not a single one versus a curveball as he put up just a .550 OPS when hitting the ball to the opposite field.
While Myers’ issues versus breaking pitches have roots in his poor approach, his collapse against left-handed pitching as a righty batter is more bizarre. Myers has always hit lefties, handling them better than righties in the minor leagues from 2011 to 2013 and managing a neutral platoon split in his rookie season. Yet in 2014, he was totally inept against them, managing just a .192/.259/.273 line.
Breaking balls aren’t the explanation here as Myers actually faced almost double the percentage of breaking pitches against righties compared to lefties (39% versus 20%). For no apparent reason, Myers became helpless against left-handed pitchers in 2014 and we have to believe that will change.
Even if Myers’ health and performance against lefty pitchers improve in 2015, his issues against breaking balls are a major concern. If Myers can make that adjustment, the sky will resume being the limit for him, but there is no guarantee that he will be fine. Luckily for the Rays, the two main positives from Myers’ 2014 remind us that Myers will put all the work he possibly can in order to succeed.
Myers’ fielding was shoddy his rookie year as he managed 4 runs below average in right field according to DRS to go along with a -0.9 UZR and a -1.3 FRAA. DRS continued to hate Myers, rating him at just -7, but his results were more optimistic otherwise, with his UZR going up to 1.3 and his FRAA to 0.9. Myers has additional work to do defensively, but he showed signs of progress, especially when he made several strong plays at the end of the year.
Myers easily could have stopped hustling on groundballs as both he and the Rays experienced nightmare seasons. Instead, infield hits were one of the few areas in which Myers’ performance stayed stable from 2013 to 2014. In 2013, Myers was an incredible 120% above league average on balls hit to the infield, and he was still at 114% above the average this past season. Statistics like this remind us Myers is a fierce competitor and that he will do everything in his power to find success again at the plate.
Wil Myers’ issues with breaking balls cannot be overlooked, and the risk associated with his game is more apparent now than it was after his rookie year. However, there is reason for optimism that he will be just fine between his misfortune from 2014 and his work ethic, and he is certainly a talent that deserves a second chance. Matt Silverman and the Rays will listen to trade offers for now, but the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of them hearing that different sound the ball makes off Myers’ bat once spring training comes around.