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Unlocking the secret to Wil Myers' breakout

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With his career back on track after two injury-marred seasons, the only thing left to do is find the young man a second L for his name.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As you likely have heard, Wil Myers is doing things again. He was the 'hometown' darling in the Home Run Derby last week in San Diego, and with 20 home runs prior to the break, he actually deserved to be there. Or maybe you haven't heard! The Padres are the middle child of the NL West -- they aren't good like the Giants or Dodgers, they aren't calamitously bad like Arizona, and they don't crush dingers (and allow dingers to be crushed) like the Rockies. You could be forgiven for failing to notice anything at all about the Padres beyond divesting most of the players you probably know.

Regardless, it's true. Myers has shuffled between three organizations in his four year career and was once considered the most 'can't-miss of the Royals cadre of can't-miss prospects'; it seems he is finally making good on those projections. Atop prospect who was traded twice before he turned 24, is now a bona fide 20-20, middle-of-the-order monster, hitting .281/.351/.517 with 16 steals. Myers is also showing durability for the first time in his careeer and is already at a career-high there with 91 games played.

Myers' final year in Tampa Bay, and his first year in San Diego, led many to believe he'd never reach the potential so many wanted to see. Pundits spawned triumphant 'WE WON THE TRADE' articles in Kansas City, more nuanced PERHAPS THAT WENT OKAY articles in Tampa Bay, and the word "bust" was nimbly danced around nationwide.

What's to blame for Myers sudden reversal of fortunes from "busted former top prospect" to "top 20 baseball player?"

Well, the obvious answer is that he's finally healthy. Myers went though the natural sophomore slump as the league's pitchers made adjustments to him in 2014, and the then-23-year-old hit .227/.313/.354 through the season's first two months. Then Myers spent nearly three months on the disabled list with a wrist fracture and although he returned to the lineup on August 20, things clearly weren't right as he hit just .213/.263/.268 the rest of the way. Wrist injuries are notorious for lingering and sapping power and that offseason appeared to cure what ailed Myers.

In 2015, his first season with the Padres, Myers started well: he hit .291/.340/.493 with 16 extra base hits and a depressed 18.1 percent strikeout rate through the seasons first 32 games. Then he re-injured that wrist of his in a collision with a teammate, and the wheels came off again. He missed a month, came back for three games, then went right back to the disabled list for another three months. He played in just 28 games the rest of the way, hitting .198/.330/.330 with a 26.6 percent strikeout rate and an OBP that was buoyed by a sky-high walk rate since he just stopped swinging all together, evidenced by a 36.3 percent swing rate.

With another offseason to recover, and a new attitude that has seen Myers accept the limitations placed on him by multiple wrist injuries, he seems to have corrected the course of his career. This season it appears he has broken out as one of the game's premier hitters this season. However, there's always more to it than "he's just healthy now." Something in the numbers has changed. One might surmise that a hitter with newly-healthy wrists might be making better, harder contact. Maybe that's it?

Season Team Soft% Med% Hard%
2013 Rays 11.7% 49.6% 38.7%
2014 Rays 14.8% 53.6% 31.6%
2015 Padres 13.5% 51.8% 34.7%
2016 Padres 15.1% 48.0% 36.9%
Total - - - 13.8% 50.5% 35.6%

Hmm, no. His percentage of hard-hit balls is up from the past two seasons, but he's actually making soft contact at a higher rate than any other time in his career. Well, that doesn't make any sense. Why in the world would that be?

Season Team O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
2013 Rays 29.00% 65.90% 45.70% 57.40% 83.60% 74.50%
2014 Rays 28.10% 63.20% 43.40% 56.00% 87.50% 76.10%
2015 Padres 22.80% 62.60% 41.70% 52.70% 85.90% 76.30%
2016 Padres 25.20% 62.00% 41.40% 68.50% 87.10% 80.70%
Total - - - 26.50% 63.40% 43.00% 59.50% 86.00% 77.00%

Oh, my. Well that's something. Myers' out of the zone contact rate has soared to unprecedented heights this season (for him -- those are actually pretty average numbers for the league as a whole), dragging his overall contact rate higher along with it.

This increase in contact has not been accompanied by a more aggressive swing rate at pitches in or out of the strike zone -- he's swinging at the same pitches, now he's just putting the bat on the ball more often. This has, as you might expect, led to a decrease in Myers' strikeout rate, though the change isn't as pronounced as to completely explain his rebirth: this season's 21.2 percent rate is just outside the standard deviation for his career 23.1 percent rate. That helps, but there's still one piece of the puzzle we're missing. Ah, here we are:

Season Team Pull% Cent% Oppo%
2013 Rays 44.80% 34.70% 20.60%
2014 Rays 48.90% 28.30% 22.80%
2015 Padres 44.10% 37.60% 18.20%
2016 Padres 35.80% 41.00% 23.20%
Total - - - 43.10% 35.40% 21.50%

If we pull the rise in O-Contact% back, and pair it with this charming little graph, we see what's really going on here.

When Myers reaches for balls outside the zone, he's going with the ball more often, rather than trying to pull everything -- outside pitches are being shot into the opposite field, and balls over the plate are being punched right back up the middle.

With the All Star Break comes ten thousand MLB Midseason Awards articles, and in each identified the same cast of characters for NL MVP: Bryzzo Corp., Daniel Murphy, Clayton Kershaw, Paul Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter. Perhaps it's just part of the territory when playing in San Diego, but Myers didn't even get a cursory mention on any of those lists.

Yet there he sits, comfortably ranked fifth in in the National League in fWAR while landing among the league leaders in those counting stats that the voters love so much. Perhaps that's why Myers doesn't appear to be on the move this month: if you want to acquire a pre-arbitration MVP candidate, you're going to have to pay for him.

. . .

Travis Sarandos is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score, a staff writer at BP Milwaukee and a very nice person. You can follow him on Twitter at @travis_mke.