Swing Refinement Necessary for Wil Myers in San Diego

Wil-Myers

For quite some time now, Wil Myers has been known as a good – no, wait: great – hitter. His strong, athletic build and bat speed yielded exorbitant praise from scouts prior to the 2009 first-year amateur draft, and when the Kansas City Royals came calling in the third round that summer, they received an immediate return on investment. Still 19, Myers reached high-A ball by the end of his first full season as a paid professional, slashing an impressive .315/.429/.506 against competition three years older than himself. His 37-home-run 2012 campaign between double and triple-A ball confirmed what many had thought for a while: Myers’ bat was elite; but how would he fare against big-league pitching?

That was the question many sought to answer heading into 2013, especially Tampa Bay Rays front office brass, who worked extensively to acquire the phenom from Kansas City via trade that winter. And conveniently enough, they got their answer relatively quickly. Myers slashed .293/.354/.478 over 88 games following his June 18 call-up — production that earned him AL Rookie of the Year honors from the Baseball Writers’ Association, and by a convincing margin. The glove didn’t produce spectacularly (2.8 UZR/150) and strikeouts were concerning (24.4% strikeout rate, among bottom 11% of qualifiers), but all things considered, it was an admirable rookie campaign for Myers on many fronts, which offered encouragement for an offensively starved Tampa Bay lineup.

Then something happened: Myers stopped producing. His first three months of 2014 yielded a considerable lack of production, including a triple slash line of .227/.313/.354, which was below league average across the board. Then, on May 30, he collided with Desmond Jennings and sprained his right hand, placing him on the disabled list for two months. Things wouldn’t improve after his August 20 activation, and by the end of regular season Myers held true to a .222/.294/.320 line, which with league and park adjustments equated to production nearly 25% lower than the league-average hitter, per FanGraphs.

A sprained wrist isn’t easy to withstand, and likely had a little something to do with his lack of production. But can we definitively say that the injury was the sole reason behind his regressions? I don’t think so, and neither should you. Remember: Myers had underachieved prior to the injury, which suggests that other factors were certainly in play. So as he takes his talents to San Diego, the question must be posed: What were those other contributing factors to his regressions at the plate in 2014? To answer that question, we should first turn our collective attention toward his quality of contact.

Wil Myers – Hard-Hit Average

2013 – .245 (73rd MLB percentile)

2014 – .199 (47th MLB percentile)

Through video review of each at bat and taking into account exit velocity and trajectory off the bat, our game trackers determined that 24.5% of Myers’ at-bats two seasons ago ended in a hard-hit ball in play (shown .245 above), which placed him in the 73rd percentile for would-be qualifiers. That’s an impressive quality (an consistency) of contact for a rookie, and had a big say in his ability to shred defenses (.362 BABIP) and clear fences (3.9% home run rate) at such a high frequency.

Remember how Myers’ slash line last season was below league average across the board? Well, his inability to produce quality contact had a lot to do with it. Myers’ .199 hard-hit average fell below the average hitters’ mark last season, meaning that essentially one out of every five of his at-bats concluded with a well-struck ball in play. Compare that to two years ago when approximately one out of every four at-bats ended with a hard-hit ball, and that’s enough to make a considerable difference (.286 BABIP, 1.9% home run rate).

Upper-Half Power Outage

2013 – .352 hard-hit avg, 23.1 HR/FB%

2014 – .144 hard-hit avg, 7.9 HR/FB%

Do Myers’ struggles stem from a particular pitch? Not really; his quality of contact against fastballs and non-fastballs each took a step in the wrong direction last season. How about a specific area of the strike zone? You betcha. Offerings located to the upper-half were the primary source behind his power decline, as his hard-hit average here dropped precipitously from .352 (higher than 97% of qualifiers) to .144 (better than just 17%), while his home run-to-fly ball rate followed in similarly negative fashion.

Why did Myers’ upper-half hard-hit average regress so significantly last season? Jay Jaffe loosely mentioned it in his SI.com piece last June, but I’m going to revisit his keyword because he was on point in his analysis: Popups. Overall, Myers’ popup percentage (popups/balls in play) increased from 7.3% to 9.3%, and at the upper-half of the strike zone, the numbers were significantly amplified: Exactly 19.5% (!) of his upper-half balls in play last season were popups (12th-highest in baseball), up from just 7.4% two years ago (lower than league-average).

To understand these regressions, let us break down Myers’ swing.

Wil Myers – Mechanical Breakdown

First, 2013.

Wil Myers Swing GIF

Now, 2014.

Myers Swing GIF 2

The two examples above help illustrate what’s changed with respect to Myers’ swing mechanics over time. In the first GIF image from 2013, Myers drives an 95 MPH 0-2 fastball located at the top left corner of the strike from Toronto Blue Jays reliever Esmil Rogers over the right field wall for a home run. The second GIF depicts Myers popping out on a similarly located fastball (and in a hitter-friendly 1-0 count) against Boston Red Sox pitcher Allen Webster, which transpired last September.

From a mechanical standpoint, both swings develop identically, or at least up until Myers’ front leg reaches its apex; he subtly un-weights his front foot each time and separates his hands from his body nicely, creating a good “stretch” by which to create bat head velocity later on. So much changes from that point forward, however — namely with his front foot. Two years ago, Myers’ left foot landed flush with his back foot. Last season, it lands slightly more open.

Why is this a problem? For starters, landing with an open front foot limits Myers’ ability to explode through the hips as much as possible. Secondly and consequently, Myers’ core muscles — the ones responsible for generating most of the power — are no longer ‘attacking’ the baseball; his core actually drifts away from the plate in the second GIF. The result: Myers is noticeably unbalanced at the point of contact, and is lunging at the baseball, which creates the weak quality of contact.

Two years ago, this wasn’t an issue for Myers. His left foot touches the ground flush with his back foot, which helps get his core muscles in athletic position and is therefore able to ‘attack’ a difficult pitch located in up-and-away in the strike zone. With the stored energy, Myers explodes through the hips and gets on plane with the pitch, creating quick hands that seemingly flick the ball over the fence with ease. It’s a beautiful swing, and I highly recommend watching it at full speed.

From his days as one of the nation’s top position prospects heading into the 2009 draft to his Rookie of the Year-winning 2013 campaign two seasons ago, Myers’ bat has been elite. Such was not the case last season with Tampa Bay, however, due in no small part from lagging mechanics at the dish that took away his wheelhouse: the upper-half of the strike zone. Recognizing and adjusting to these mechanical issues we covered will have a big say in whether he becomes consistently productive at the big league level.

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Statistics courtesy of TruMedia Networks LLC and FanGraphs 

Alec Dopp is a contributor to Gammons Daily, covers the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League and is a former scouting intern with Perfect Game USA. Connect with him on LinkedIn and give him a follow on Twitter @alecdopp, if you’d like.