When the Wil Myers hype train started, he had no flaws. He walked almost as much as he struck out, he struck out less than the league average, and though he wasn’t a catcher any more, he looked athletic in the outfield, and his power was to drool for. That was probably 2010. Since, he’s been traded, and a possible flaw has emerged — his strikeout rate has increased steadily as he’s advanced. That’s not great news, but with him up today, it’s worth trying to ask the numbers what might be in store for Myers.
First, let’s refer back to a table from that great piece by Chris St. John about the predictive power of minor league strikeout and walk rates:
Since Myers has had a high walk rate at every level, he’s likely to be productive. That walk rate seems more important to his productivity than his strikeout rate, which seems fair, considering that strikeouts are up across baseball and there are plenty of productive sluggers with strikeout rates over 20%.
But for those of us in batting average leagues, the strikeout rate has been concerning for some time. And even St. John’s piece admits that high walk, high strikeout guys are likely to boom or bust. Myers started at 20.9% at his first try in Double-A, then struck out 27.6% of the time in his follow up there, 22.3% of the time in his time in Triple-A last year, and then 24.6% of the time this year in Double-A for the Rays. Across the minor leagues, his strikeout rate was 21.5%. In the high minors, though, it was 23%.
The exact strikeout rates may seem irrelevant. Perhaps he was working on something, or perhaps he’ll have a bad strikeout rate, but the exact numbers depend too much on the up-and-down nature of the level of competition in the minors. But if we want to project him, we’ll have to use some number to represent his minor league true-talent strikeout ability. Steamer used 23.5% in its projection (.249 batting average), but it used 22.4% before the season started (.254 average). ZiPs was less excited about the contact (27.9%), but since it loves his power the most (.192 isolated slugging percentage), it still produces a similar batting average (.253).
And yeah, the role of power is important. We know that Giancarlo Stanton strikes out too much, but he has enough power to turn some outs into hits, and so his batting average hasn’t been horrible so far in the major leagues. Myer’s minor league seasons — in terms of power — wouldn’t look that out of place if they were printed on Stanton’s baseball card, but Stanton’s minor league ISO (.293) dwarfs Myers’ (.222). If you’re hoping for Stanton redux, it’s probably a hope against hope.
How about some players that are currently showing Myers’ skillset in the major leagues? Let’s look for a strikeout rate above 23% and an ISO around .200. There are 39 qualified players in baseball that had a strikeout rate over 20% and an ISO that was better than league average (~.150) since the beginning of 2012. Their batting average was .262. They averaged home runs on 4.2% of their PAs, which would give Myers a chance at hitting 16+ jacks over the course of the rest of the season, while remaining at home in a group that averaged a 23.8% strikeout rate and a .207 ISO.
Let’s set the parameters tigher: Strikeout rate between 21 and 28%, ISO between .180 and .240, and walk rate above the league average. Here are some possible comps:
That group has ‘succeeded’ to an extent though, and there are other batters that didn’t make the ‘qualified batter’ threshold because they struck out too much or didn’t show enough power. This group also showed a .200 ISO since the beginning of 2012. Though he’s beaten that ISO at his last three minor league stops, it’s hard to even pencil Myers in for that number as a 23-year-old rookie. That’s how you get the .249/7 rest-of-season projection from Steamer.
But even that projection is closer to 14 homers if he plays full time from here on out. Projecting anyone on the Rays for full-time work is folly, since they seem to platoon more than anyone in baseball. Seven Rays qualified for the batting title: Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings, James Loney, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson. They don’t always play in the same places, but that’s pretty much the infield and the outfield, leaving only catcher and DH available to Myers. Luke Scott‘s .240/.340/.388 is not going to keep Myers from playing, but it’d be a shame to see the rook DH. Most likely, the team shuttles veterans in and out of the DH role, and plays Myers in the corner outfield most days. Unfortunately, Luke Scott is a lefty and Wil Myers is a righty… and Myers’ ISO was 50 points higher against lefties on the farm. There’s a non-zero chance Myers ends up on the short end of a platoon.
Give Myers little more than a third of the DH/corner outfield at-bats from here on out, and he ends up with about 150 plate appearances, and the Steamer projection likely nails it. Give Myers all of the at-bats, and you can double the Steamer projection. Give Myers all of the at-bats, and most of his minor league power, and he could add on another three-to-four homers and a couple points in batting average.
Sounds like a risky proposition in redraft leagues. Don’t drop anyone too well-established that could hit .260+ with 18 homers the rest of the way — sounds like some things have to land right for Myers to get those numbers anyway.