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Maybe 2018 is finally ‘Wil Myers’ year’

Since the James Shields trade, lofty expectations have surrounded Wil Myers. Maybe in 2018 it’s realized?

MLB: San Diego Padres at San Francisco Giants Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

As Spring Training approaches, once again we prepare to celebrate one of the great modern traditions of baseball. For half a decade now, baseball fans across the globe have watched and waited with bated breath for Wil Myers to finally start realizing his potential. After 547 games in the majors the luster that once surrounded the young-ish slugger has faded. And yet, he’s still only 26, the Padres still believe in him. They have to, right? So maybe this is it. Maybe this is the year Myers finally flourishes, but what would it take to achieve that next step?

Myers hasn’t been a bad player for the Padres, and his debut in 2013 with the Rays certainly set a high bar. Through 88 games he posted a 129 wRC+, bopped 13 home runs and earned 2.3 fWAR for Tampa. It set a high bar that he hasn’t really even come close to since.

Since joining the Padres in 2015 Myers’ logged a 113 wRC+ an above average offensive output overall, but essentially the exact average output for a first baseman over that timespan. Unfortunately, a failed outfield experiment has permanently ensconced him at first base, which raises the bar on his expected offensive output.

The Padres want to contend in a couple years, and doing that likely means offense, from offense-first positions. Myers is signed through 2022 plus a team option and is going to make him $22.5 million starting in 2020. It’d be nice to get production that closely matches that payday, but the recent years’ numbers make that look unlikely.

However, there’s good news.

While his output has been disappointing in San Diego thus far, it has been surprisingly consistent, meaning any sort of substantive change should have a strong impact. His wRC+ by year has been 115, 116 and 109. And for half a season in 2016 he was superlative in his efforts to represent the Padres as they hosted the All-Star Game, posting a 134 wRC+ with 19 home runs. It looked like Myers’ had finally emerged.

Whether through adjustments by pitchers, wear and tear or the sinister curses of fate and large sample size that forced him to never be anything more than a slightly above average bat, his wRC+ fell to 92 in the second half and his home run total was cut to a meager nine longballs. He walked a bit more (10.8 percent after the break, 9.5 before) and also struck out more (27.6 percent in the second half, only 20.6 before) which does hint at adjustments by pitchers, forcing Myers to chase pitches. It’s hard to call that second half anything but a disappointment, resulting in a typical full season.

In digging into his 2017 campaign though, there’s hints that Myers has changed.

The results weren’t that different. He hit 30 home runs, two more than the previous year. But everyone hit more home runs. His wRC+ fell to 109. He struck out more - 27.7 percent K rate a career high (by 0.1 percent, but still) and he set a career high in walk rate at 10.8 percent (again, 0.1 percent higher than previous). It’s hard to find anything in that to excite you.

Of note is that Myers raised his average exit velocity from 88.5 mph to 89.1 mph. Understandably, not that titillating. That could be noise. But there’s something intriguing about how his batted ball profile changed:

Wil Myers exit velocity by batted ball type

Year FB Exit Velo(mph) LD Exit Velo(mph) GB Exit Velo(mph)
Year FB Exit Velo(mph) LD Exit Velo(mph) GB Exit Velo(mph)
2016 90.7 94.5 86.2
2017 92.6 95.8 85.1

It wasn’t written about like, say, Yonder Alonso or or other Fly Ball Revolution acolytes, but there’s something in Myers’ adjustment. He attacked balls with the goal of hitting them in the air. This comes out not only in the elevated hitting velocity on fly balls, but also in the drop in ground ball speed. When he hit them into the ground they dribbled away. The intent is plain. In conjunction with that, Myers started hitting fly balls at a career high 42.9 percent clip, well above any previous mark. As similar as Myers’ season looked in the slash line, the path there was rather divergent.

The real question is whether or not the change was worth it. A big barrier for Myers is his home park. Only San Francisco’s AT&T Park had a lower Home Run Park Factor than Petco, and Myers has to spend another eight or nine games a year there. He still popped 30 homers though. What if he were in, say, Wrigley Field, the most average park for home runs? It might look something like this:

Baseball Savant

Obviously this isn’t precise - this is every batted ball Myers had all year, not just at Petco. And some of those “over the fence” dots were line drives. But it’s interesting to see what his spray chart would look like if he weren’t being sapped by deep walls and the legendary marine layer on cool nights in Southern California, killing fly balls. Myers hitting 35 or 40 home runs plus a few more hard liners off the wall is a whole new animal.

He’s still just turning 27, now entering his physical prime, so there’s no reason to think Myers can’t add a bit more punch on his swing with a little extra muscle. The only other worry is, with this spike in exit velocity, he’s suffered a problem with over-aggressiveness and contact. His contact rate fell 4.5 points to 75.8 percent, and his swing rate out of the zone leaped nearly three points to 29 percent, and overall his swing rate was up a bit over three points at 44.1 percent. This could counteract his increased power output. But if a player does make a change to their swing, there would be some kind of adjustment period, perhaps a long one. His on-base rate in 2017 was basically exactly league average, so even if it holds and his power output increases he could finally realize the his potential. Or something like it.

Each year that passes knocks some of the ceiling off Myers. Steamer projects another 113 wRC+ with 29 home runs in 146 games, so basically more of the same. It’s just hard to believe this stasis will hold. Especially with what seems like a drastic change to his approach at the plate. But projection systems can’t account for that. With how he changed his attack and the fact he’s reaching the typical physical prime, this could be the year he capitalizes on his raw talent.

2018 is an important year for Myers. At the age of 27, the Padres will ask themselves, ‘if not now, when?’.

Merritt Rohlfing writes about baseball for Beyond the Box Score and the Cleveland Indians specifically at Let’s Go Tribe. He’s got a podcast, Mostly Baseball. It’s great. Follow him on Twitter, @MerrillLunch.