Wil Myers Utilizing All Fields in Return to Prominence

There’s a bizarre trend in baseball this season that I’ve spent much of the year ignoring because it’s uncomfortable to believe. As unpredictable as baseball can be at a granular level, it’s equivalently reliable in a macro sense. There’s a game virtually every night; nine defensive players are on the field at any given time; base-runners run counterclockwise; and first basemen mash. This is the baseball I know. This is the sport I’ve been watching for decades. And, yet, as Aaron Gleeman discussed at Baseball Prospectus recently, offensive production from first basemen this season has been little more than mediocre.

When Gleeman wrote his piece last week, first basemen had compiled a .761 OPS as a unit this season. They’ve since raised that to a robust .769 OPS — or, roughly the same mark as third basemen (.772 OPS) and second basemen (.761 OPS). Take a moment to truly absorb that… Second basemen have produced an OPS a mere eight points lower than first basemen. As a result, I’ve found myself searching for answers at first base that I can hope will restore balance to baseball. There aren’t many to be found — Paul Goldschmidt, Anthony Rizzo, Brandon Belt, and Eric Hosmer are a few of the only 20-somethings providing hope at the position — but there is one notable former top prospect who is currently growing into a role as a productive first baseman after having been written off by some as a bust. I’m referring, of course, to the twice-traded San Diego Padre, Wil Myers.

Now, Wil Myers may not be a masher in the first-base tradition of guys like Frank Thomas, Mark McGwire, and Albert Pujols, but he currently ranks fourth among MLB first basemen in total offensive production. Not only that, Myers is the youngest qualified first baseman in the league this year. Of course, that’s a bit of a back-handed compliment because first base is often the landing spot for older players who can no longer hack it at a position which requires more range. The good news for Myers, though, is that a history of arm problems sent him to first base, not a lack of speed. Still, it’s very much worth noting that, although it feels as though Myers has been around for ages, he’s still just 25 years old — more than a year younger that George Springer!

If anyone had written off Myers entering this season, it was understandable, although arguably misguided. Before the season began, Paul Swydan noted that projection systems indicated a healthy Myers could be in a strong position to lead the Padres offense. (Which sounds like another back-handed compliment, but his projected .330 wOBA was nothing to sneeze at.) However, Myers had missed more than one-half of each of the past two seasons due to two separate wrist injuries. When he was on the field during those two years, he hit just .235/.311/.364 over 614 plate appearances. Two years of being unproductive baseball was enough to make the memories of his 2013 Rookie of the Year breakout campaign seem like a lifetime ago.

If you heeded Swydan’s advice and put some faith in Myers this year, you have been duly rewarded. He has already set a career high in home runs with 15 and boasts an attractive .286/.330/.521 slashline. But perhaps the most impressive thing about Myers’ current offensive profile is this:

2016 Wil Myers Batted-Ball Data
Location % of Batted Balls OPS ISO wRC+
Pull 37.5% .947 .280 158
Center 39.5% 1.132 .312 207
Opposite 23.0% .940 .273 148

Wil Myers successfully punishes the ball to all fields. His spray chart is practically a work of art:

Source: FanGraphs

It’s this tendency to effectively spray the ball to all fields that led Eno Sarris to identify Myers among 17 other players age 25 and under as having the potential to exhibit a power surge this season. Sarris found that non-pull hitters exhibit more growth during their early 20s than their pull-happy counterparts. As a result, the fact that Myers had underperformed his minor-league power numbers made it easy to identify him as someone who may still be growing into his power. Naturally, the fact that Myers is healthy for the first time in three years is also a relevant factor in his power surge.

This tendency of Myers to use all fields has never previously been as pronounced as it has this year. Entering the season, he’d pulled 46.1% of batted balls; this year, that figure has plummeted to 37.5%. This made me wonder how pitch locations matched up to where he was hitting the ball. The three graphs below show the location of pitches Myers has pulled this year (on the left), hit up the middle (center), and taken the other way (right).

Myers pull-cent-opp

From those zone plots, it’s clear that Myers is knocking pitches over the heart of the plate to the middle of the field. This certainly helps to explain the table above, which shows that he’s recorded the highest wRC+ and ISO up the middle than to either his pull or opposite fields. But what might be even more impressive is that it appears as though Myers is inside-outing a lot of balls while still generating significant power to the opposite field.

One way in which Myers distinguishes himself is that he provides more value than just as a power hitter. He currently ranks 11th in the majors in value added on the basepaths. He’s 8-for-9 in stolen bases and 60% in extra-bases taken. Unlike most first basemen, Myers still has some speed to offer and he’s utilizing it well. In a potentially related note, defensive metrics rate Myers’ defense at first base incredibly highly. He’s still only played 85 games at the position, so it’s hard to have confidence in the precise value of his defense to date, but it certainly follows that a young player with somewhat above-average speed would have more to offer the first-base position on defense than the majority of his colleagues.

With the James Shields trade, the Padres have already begun dismantling their failed attempt at a rapid pace rebuild. Earlier this month, Dave Cameron suggested the Padres would be wise to sell off players like Myers with viable trade value and just yesterday Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported that the Padres are “open to trading” Myers. Parting with a player like Myers, who has three more remaining years of team control after 2016 and looks like he’s just beginning to tap into his potential, will not be an easy pill to swallow. However, with the lack of any immediate hope on the horizon for the Padres, it’s certainly conceivable that, given the way Myers is performing right now, he could bring back a package A.J. Preller would be unable to resist. No matter how the trade negotiations play out, I’ll be watching Myers closely in hopes that he becomes one of those players who can help major-league first basemen regain their clout at the plate and restore balance to my baseball world.

Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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6 years ago

Last night, I watched Myers crush a double to the opposite field and rip a home run pull side as hard as any I have seen this year, PLUS he made a gorgeous jumping catch at first base. Hadn’t seen him play since his days in Tampa. Was incredibly impressed. If someone can snag this guy for the stretch run, he could be a huge contributor.