Prior to the 2015 season, the Padres acquired Wil Myers in a three-team trade that saw them surrender a couple of prized prospects in right-hander Joe Ross and five-tool player Trea Turner. When Myers suffered through injuries and Ross showed promise in his first taste of the big leagues in 2015, it initially appeared as though the Padres had gotten the short end of the deal.
But then San Diego moved Myers from the outfield to first base permanently at the start of last season, and he put together a stellar first half, earning him the first All-Star selection of his career. In 87 games before the 2016 All-Star break, Myers hit .286/.351/.522 (134 wRC+) and swiped 15 bases. Suddenly, it looked like the Padres were right to bet on Myers reaching the potential he flashed in his Rookie-of-the-Year campaign in 2013, producing a lethal combination of speed and power.
In the second half, however, Myers fell off dramatically, slashing just .226/.316/.381 (91 wRC+). Despite the dropoff, he ended the season with a solid .797 OPS and fell just a couple of stolen bases and homers shy of a 30-30 season, collecting 28 of each. This was also the first time in the 26-year-old’s short career that his season wasn’t marred by injuries since his rookie year in 2013.
Banking on Myers’ first half being more reflective of his true talent level rather than his disappointing second half, the Padres decided to lock Myers up for the foreseeable future, signing him to a six-year, $83 million contract extension that will keep him in San Diego through the 2022 season. The front office envisioned him to be the type of player who will keep fans in seats while the club endures an arduous rebuilding process, as well as a player who could be a cornerstone of future contenders.
But now, a few months into his new contract, Myers has produced middling results. He is currently hitting an unspectacular .264/.339/.490 (118 wRC+) with 16 home runs. For comparison’s sake, the average major-league first baseman has produced a 120 wRC+ this year.
Myers does have one large advantage over most of the league’s first baseman, however, and that is his speed. According to Statcast’s new sprint speed metric, Myers is the fastest first baseman by a wide margin, and his nine stolen bases this year rank second among all of those at the position, though his base running has not rated nearly as well as it did last year.
A Few Crucial Issues
Myers’ struggles stem from his swing-and-miss tendencies. He is currently striking out a career-high 28.8% of the time, which is the 11th highest rate in the majors. This is also something that likely contributed to Meyers’ second-half fade last year, as he saw his strikeout rate increase from about 20% to over 27% from one half to the next.
Additionally, Myers’ is swinging at more pitches out of the zone; his chase-rate is at a career-high 29%. While Myers swung less often than ever before (40.8%) and made more contact than ever before (80.3%) last season, he is now swinging more often than ever before (43.6%) and making less contact than ever before (73.5%).
Missing more pitches often coincides with a power-focused approach, which is exactly what it has done for Myers; his .226 isolated power mark is significantly higher than it was at the end of last season (.202). However, it is still lower than it was before last year’s All-Star break (.236).
Another aspect of Myers’ season that stands out (and is also likely a side effect of attempting to hit for more power) is the amount of times he is hitting infield pop-ups. A whopping 17.1% of the fly balls Myers hits are infield pop-ups, a number that was a mere three-percent in the first half of last year. Like the increase in strikeouts, this problem started last year, as over 10% of Meyers’ fly balls were infield flies following the All-Star break.
Myers is hitting more fly balls as a whole this year, which is certainly not a bad thing for a player with his type of power, but the stark increase in the number of infield pop-ups suggests that the seven-percent increase in total fly balls is mostly due to unproductive infield flies rather than productive fly balls to the outfield.
The batter’s box hasn’t been the only place Myers has disappointed this year, either; his defense has suffered, too. Myers’ -2 Defensive Runs Saved are tied for 16th with two others among 24 qualified first baseman and his -4.7 UZR is second-worst. And by Defensive Runs Above Average, Myers has been the second-worst defender in the majors.
This is especially notable because Myers was among the best defensive first basemen a year ago. Defensive metrics are notoriously volatile, but when all of the major defensive metrics agree that Myers has experienced a serious drop-off in fielding ability, it’s difficult to ignore.
Now about midway through his third season in San Diego, it’s still not entirely clear who Myers is as a player. At the All-Star break last year, it looked like Myers had matured into one of the game’s best, most complete first basemen. He looked like a rare first basemen who had the athleticism to be among the best fielders and baserunners in baseball.
Then the second half of 2016 came, and Myers looked like a player whose athleticism would be the only thing that could justify his sub-par offense for the position. And this year, Myers is somewhere in between those two. He’s been a below-average first basemen at the plate and in the field, and he’s striking out more often than all but three players in the National League.
Fortunately for the Padres, Myers is in his age 26 season, and is only just entering the prime of his career. There is still plenty of time to rediscover the approach that led to his All-Star selection last year as the Padres gradually march their way towards contention. And things certainly aren’t all bad for Myers, either. Despite his struggles, he’s still on pace for another 20-20 season, and continues to be a promising player with the potential to be something truly special. However, until Myers puts together a full season of top-tier offense, defense, and base running, his potential will remain just that.