Wil Myers isn’t good in center field — but that isn’t where he belongs on the field. How does the data change when he plays his natural position?
I’m not saying anything revolutionary here, but the San Diego Padres have a terrible defense. Coming into the season, the Padres did everything they could to acquire offensive firepower, not caring about the consequences of accumulating guys that can only play offense. In came Derek Norris, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton and out went Yasmani Grandal. Now, as expected, they are top-five in the NL in errors.
Despite their infield being relatively lackluster, I want to turn your attention to the outfield, as their big free agent acquisitions all happen to patrol Petco Park’s expansive grass. Now, Matt Kemp is pretty awful out in the field (everyone that has watched baseball in the last three years knows this) and Justin Upton isn’t anything special, but through it all, I truly feel bad for Wil Myers. He is getting a ton of unfair criticism. It is not unfair because he plays a decent center field. He doesn’t. Instead, he lets home runs bounce off his head:
No, Myers has been so bad that he is now being taken from the outfield and put at first base. Now that Yonder Alonso has hit the DL, the Padres are planning on playing Will Veneble in the outfield and letting Myers take over duties at the corner. This move is definitely for the better, but it sadly leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Padres fans. Myers was simply a failed experiment in center field. But its unfair to him to think this way without remembering that this was, in fact, an experiment. Myers had no business being out there in center, and he is actually not too bad of an outfielder when he isn’t playing possibly the most difficult position in baseball. Let’s take a look at Myers’ defense in right field, to remind Padres fans that if they had a decent center fielder, Myers would be capable of holding his own in right.
Let’s comb through some defensive statistics. Now, defensive statistics may be the hardest to explain and the most subjective, but they do reveal some info. For example, Wil Myers is currently last in UZR (dead last!!) with a -8.4. This means that he is currently worth almost nine runs less than the average fielder at his position. He is a horrendous liability — see the home run that he singlehandedly caused above if you want proof. Myers is also worth -9 DRS. Both of these metrics combine his route-running ability, his arm, the amount of ground that he can cover, and the amount of home run saving catches he has managed. In short, he is below average in all of these categories. But wait! This wasn’t always the case.
Let’s check back to 2014 and 2013, when Wil Myers played right field for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2013, his rookie year, Myers was the 15th best right fielder in UZR, essentially middle of the pack and sandwiched between Drew Stubbs and Jayson Werth. He also was worth -4 DRS — something that isn’t very impressive but clearly an improvement upon the -9 DRS he is sporting right now. In fact, that number was 14th best among right fielders (right in the middle of the pack again). Great? No, but Myers was certainly serviceable.
In actuality, there were signs that Myers was even improving defensively after his rookie campaign, despite suffering a wrist injury last year. In 2014, Myers was 20th in DRS with a, saving -7 runs, but for a frame of context, Jose Bautista was directly above him tied for 19th in DRS. This is why defensive metrics aren’t the end-all be-all way to evaluate players in the field. Myers’ UZR, on the other hand, was actually 12th among right fielders, and he posted a positive value, above Gerardo Parra (who is pretty solid in the field). Myers’ RZR, or ability to field balls, got better between 2013 and 2014, and while he isn’t a defensive stalwart by any means, I think this paints a picture of a young outfielder learning the ropes and slowly improving. I will leave you with the below chart:
What does this tell us? Well, Myers can’t make the remote plays (something that only top-five outfielders can make). He also rarely every makes unlikely plays (something that top-ten outfielders can make at a decent clip). But as you progress from catches that are unlikely to be made to catches that are likely to be made and routine, you see the dichotomy between Wil Myers in center and Wil Myers in right. His percentage of plays that he has a 50% chance of making a far higher in right field than center, as are the amount of plays that should be made from 60%-90% of the time. And in right field, the routine play is actually almost always made. To me, that doesn’t sound like a defensive liability; it’s not Wil Myers’ fault that the Padres insist on playing him out of position.
Now, I support Myers’ enthusiasm. He says all the right things. But that doesn’t mean he can back them up.
“People say I can’t play center field, but I know I can and I’m excited to get out this year and play,” said Myers, who understandably has grown a bit weary of this line of questioning. “Everybody keeps talking about how big the place is. I think I can handle it.”
Well, no buddy, we all saw that you can’t handle it. But you can handle playing right field, and you shouldn’t forget that. And neither should Padres fans. Wil Myers’ future is still bright, as long as the Padres go out and get a real center fielder.
Edited by John Ray.
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