Can Wil Myers Lead the Padres Offense?

Wil Myers has filled a few roles in his short time in the public eye. He has been a top prospect. Then the top prospect. Then one of the biggest trade chips in the game. Then Rookie of the Year. And then he was traded again, and filled the role of afterthought. But now, as we look to 2016, can he fill another one — that of team leader?

No one is suggesting of course that Myers fill an actual leadership role on the Padres. They have veteran players like James Shields, Matt Kemp and Melvin Upton to give motivational speeches. (And you don’t come here to read those kinds of stories anyway.) But when looking over the Padres depth chart, one notices that Myers has the best wOBA projection of the bunch.

ALL Batters Padres

Derek Norris 438 .244 .315 .395 .311 -0.1 0.1 -0.5 2.0
Cory Spangenberg 504 .260 .310 .384 .301 -4.0 0.7 0.1 1.5
Yangervis Solarte 511 .261 .315 .385 .306 -1.9 -0.8 -3.1 1.3
Wil Myers 609 .258 .330 .433 .330 9.0 0.7 -6.2 1.3
Matt Kemp 590 .265 .321 .436 .327 7.4 -0.3 -9.9 1.0
Jon Jay 455 .259 .333 .347 .299 -4.3 -0.2 1.6 0.9
Alexei Ramirez 623 .255 .287 .358 .281 -15.2 0.1 -3.1 0.8
Jose Pirela 308 .257 .305 .377 .298 -3.2 0.1 -1.7 0.6
Melvin Upton 455 .214 .287 .355 .281 -11.0 0.9 0.4 0.5
Brett Wallace 237 .246 .305 .403 .308 -0.7 -0.5 -0.8 0.5
Jabari Blash 280 .223 .298 .416 .311 0.0 -0.1 -1.2 0.5
Christian Bethancourt 128 .248 .276 .368 .278 -3.4 0.0 0.5 0.4
Austin Hedges 160 .220 .262 .328 .258 -6.8 -0.1 1.7 0.3
Alex Dickerson 194 .248 .298 .391 .299 -1.8 0.0 -0.3 0.3
Travis Jankowski 91 .250 .303 .329 .280 -2.3 0.3 0.6 0.2
Manuel Margot 14 .246 .290 .367 .286 -0.3 0.0 0.1 0.0
Alexi Amarista 236 .234 .283 .338 .270 -7.8 0.6 -0.7 0.0
Jose Rondon 14 .241 .282 .315 .263 -0.5 0.0 0.1 0.0
Total 5847 .249 .307 .385 .301 -47.2 1.5 -22.5 12.1

The edge over Kemp is ever so slight, but it’s still there, and for the 99% of us who aren’t die-hard Padres fans, that may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, the die has seemingly been cast on Myers. Where once we were very quick to proclaim the decision by Kansas City to send Myers to Tampa Bay a disaster, now we are often quick to declare it a win for the Royals. After all, they went to back-to-back World Series, and are now defending the crown. The fact that Myers was quickly shipped out of town by Tampa Bay — in a trade where they didn’t receive a ton in return for him — only increases the sense that KC won after all.

Deciding who won or who lost either trade is sort of immaterial to the here and now, of course. Myers is still just entering his age-25 season, and he was actually a pretty good hitter last season. He was the second-best hitter by wRC+ among Padres regulars, and with the best hitter — Justin Upton — off to greener pastures, Myers is left at the top of the heap.

Myers’ 116 wRC+ wasn’t special by any stretch, nor was it abhorrent. Among the 352 players who logged 200 or more plate appearances last season, Myers ranked 92nd — just after Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols, and just ahead of Kyle Seager and Dustin Pedroia. Those are all good players, and all four of them tallied at least two wins last season. Myers meanwhile tallied only 0.6 WAR. There were two reasons for this.

One reason: his poor defense. His play in center graded out poorly. Both his range and throwing arm rated below average, and by the end of the season he was manning first base. The plan is for him to man first base full-time this season. It makes Myers relatively unique to be switching to first base from the outfield at such a young age.

Consider this table of other players who’ve made that move:

Outfielders Who Became First Basemen
Player OF Innings, Through Age 24 1B Innings, Age 25-30
Cesar Cedeno 7,070.0 1,164.7
Lee Mazzilli 3,979.0 1,141.7
Frank Robinson 3,912.0 669.3
Reggie Smith 3,881.3 544.7
Jack Clark 3,670.7 1,086.3
Carlos May 3,540.7 577.0
Boog Powell 3,429.7 6,979.0
Miguel Cabrera 2,946.7 5,129.3
Curt Blefary 2,865.7 1,511.0
Willie Montanez 2,560.0 7,377.3
Johnny Briggs 2,407.7 698.3
Albert Pujols 2,393.7 7,900.0
Adam Dunn 2,388.0 995.0
Oddibe McDowell 2,073.0 7,612.7
Mike Marshall 1,961.7 913.7
Ed Kirkpatrick 1,818.3 638.7
Orlando Cepeda 1,751.0 6,371.0
Bill Buckner 1,725.0 3,013.7
Wil Myers 1,660.2 N/A
Minimum 1,660 innings played in the outfield prior to age-25 season, and minimum 500 innings played at first base from ages 25-30.

The list is even shorter than this, if you think of it in terms of who became full-time first basemen. Reggie Smith for instance, never became a full-time first baseman. Either way, it’s not a long list. Outfielders usually stay outfielders, at least until they’re a little older. But given Myers’ lack of range last season, the Padres have to be applauded for looking for unconventional solutions, especially if it frees him up to focus on his offense.

The second reason Myers only managed 0.6 WAR last season is that, once again, he dealt with wrist problems, and missed a whole bunch of games. He finally had surgery to correct it, and is confident he’s on the road to bigger and better things. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what he told Dennis Lin at the San Diego Union-Tribune last month:

“With the talent level I have, I think I’ll be able to put together a lot of great at-bats in 600 plate appearances.”

So, yeah, definitely not lacking for confidence. But the fact remains that Myers has not yet tallied 400 PAs in a single season. You can’t really blame him for 2013, since the Rays didn’t call him up right away, but the last two years are a different story. The jury will remain out on Myers and his wrist until he shows he can do it, but if he can, there is a lot to look forward to.

Myers upped his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate last season. His Speed Score also improved last season. That didn’t translate into more stolen bases, but it’s a notable improvement nonetheless. He got better against curveballs. He swung at fewer pitches outside of the strike zone, and made better contact overall. Perhaps some of that is a byproduct of moving from the AL East to the NL West, but that’s his reality now, and there’s no automatic rule that says that just because you’re playing against weaker competition that you will automatically do better.

Wil Myers has filled a lot of roles in his brief professional baseball career. Now he is tasked with filling the role of the most talented hitter on a flawed San Diego Padres team. Whether he can fulfill this role for the majority/entirety of the 2016 season will go a long way to determining if the Padres can make some noise.

Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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8 years ago

No? Matt Kemp is still the premier run-producer in that offense. RBIs don’t lie.

Baseball Anagrams
8 years ago
Reply to  TWTW

The least funny shtick on the whole internet. Down votes don’t lie.

8 years ago

And jet fuel can’t melt steel beams!!!

Ozzie Albies
8 years ago
Reply to  TWTW

? Matt Kemp is always the first manufacturer to change and insults. Iknai RBIS.

Garys of Oldemember
8 years ago
Reply to  Ozzie Albies

Thank you for all you do.