Welcome back to the RCG Mailbag, where we take some of those burning Tampa Bay Rays questions on your mind and attempt to give you some answers.
The easiest way to submit a question is to fill out this Google form. Otherwise, you can comment on any of our posts here or on Facebook, email us at rayscoloredglasses at gmail dot com, or tweet me @RobbieKnopf. Today’s question surrounds ex-Ray Wil Myers.
OTown RaysFan asks: Why did the Rays think that Wil Myers was not going to return to his 2013 form, and that they needed to move him while he still had value?
OTown RaysFan’s comment came on a piece about Steven Souza. As we discuss Souza’s place on the 2015 Rays, it certainly makes sense to go back and see why the Rays acquired him to begin with. No matter how optimistic we are about the Rays’ haul in the Myers trade, they would never had dealt him if they hadn’t lost hope in his abilities. Let’s explain why they elected to move on.
Wil Myers was terrible last season. He hit to just a .222/.294/.320 line (77 OPS+) with 14 doubles, 6 homers, and 35 RBI in 361 plate appearances. He did miss quite a bit of time with a wrist injury, but that can’t explain why he struggled quite that badly. As we determined back in October, his season represented one of the worst sophomore slumps in baseball history.
Myers’ issues at the plate were compounded by the fact that his entire game revolves around his bat. He made slight improvements to his defense and baserunning this year, but if he isn’t well above league average at the plate, his other skills can’t make up for that. Unfortunately for Myers, there is reason to doubt his ability to hit moving forward.
Wil Myers’ problems with secondary pitches of all types reached a terrifying level in 2014. The following table, which comes courtesy of Brooks Baseball, is cringe-worthy.
Even if we ignore Myers’ lack of power, there is no way to spin that table in a positive light. Myers’ combined 48-3 strikeout to walk ratio against changeups, sliders, curveballs, and cutters is unbelievably bad. How did it get to that point? The following two graphs and their accompanying explanations should make that more clear.
This graph shows how pitchers approached Myers with their sliders, curveballs, and changeups. The graph is from the catcher’s point of view and shows that pitchers have primarily attacked Myers down-and-away with those offerings. That was the scouting report on how to pitch to Myers, and it worked to perfection.
This graph has more going on with the colors, but focus on the down-and-away area that we talked about above. The league swing-and-miss rate on fastballs, sliders, and changeups is around 12%. Even though Myers knew that pitchers were going to attack him in that part of the zone, he still had above-average whiff rates everywhere and even well-average rates in half of the sections.
Overall, the two-by-two square in the bottom right-hand corner of the graph accounted for 36.2% of the sliders, curveballs, and changeups that Myers saw yet he still swung and missed 20.8% of the time. We can also note that he saw quite a few pitches right down the middle in the bottom row and the second-from-the-bottom row and couldn’t make contact with those offerings either.
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Bringing back the first table from this piece, even when Myers did make contact, he was unable to do so with any authority at all. The fact that he hit 1 homer and 1 double on each pitch doesn’t make up for the fact that he hit groundballs on over half of his batted balls on these three pitch types. Swings-and-misses and weak groundballs are never the combination you want from a hitter, especially one supposed to be a slugger.
A common excuse for Myers is that his power was sapped by his wrist injury, but this supersedes that. Even if Myers’ power is much better next season, the fact remains that he is helpless against secondary pitches down-and-away and even down-the-middle and low. Pitchers will continuously exploit that, mixing them with high fastballs that he can’t reach to frustrate him consistently.
The Tampa Bay Rays traded Wil Myers because they don’t believe that this gaping hole in his approach is something he can fix. Given that we’ve been hearing about “the holes in Myers’ swing” for a while now, there is no reason to think that he can. With that in mind, the Rays decided to cut bait and get value for Myers while they still could.