Wil Myers just had a big year for the Padres. Can he carry that success into 2021?
When the San Diego Padres signed Wil Myers to a six-year, $83 million contract extension prior to the 2017 season, MLB.com called him “The face of the Padres.” That might have been true then, though it’s probably not true anymore, giving the emergence of guys like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado, plus the many other young players on the verge of breaking through for this Padres organization.
Still, the extension was a big deal back then and continues to be, as Myers is coming off a big season and will continue to be an important part of the San Diego lineup in 2021.
Myers signed that extension coming off an All-Star campaign in 2016 in which he hit .259 with 28 home runs, 28 stolen bases, and 94 RBIs. It looked like he was realizing his potential three years after his AL Rookie of the Year campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013, as injuries had caused him to miss significant time in both 2014 with the Rays and 2015 with the Padres.
Myers followed that up with a 30-homer campaign in 2017, but injuries again slowed him down in 2018 and he was less than stellar in 2019. However, Myers came up big for the playoff-bound Padres in 2020, posting a whopping .959 OPS, the first time since his rookie season he had even topped .800. His 15 home runs during the shortened 2020 season were almost as many (18) as he had during the full 2019 season.
One reason Myers was so much better in 2020 was that he cut down his strikeout rate significantly. While it had been in the 20s most of his career, it spiked to 34.3% in 2019. In 2020, he was able to get that down to 25.7%, his lowest mark in four seasons. He wasn’t necessarily showing more patience; his walk rate of 8.3% was actually the lowest of his career.
Myers was simply barreling up the ball better in 2020. Line drive and fly ball percentages were up, and his ground ball percentage was down this past season. He also was pulling the ball less and going to the opposite field more. Meanwhile, what FanGraphs calls Z-contact%, which is contact percentage of pitches inside the strike zone, was up from 77.6% in 2019 to 85.2% in 2020.
Myers is never going to be a wizard defensively, as many of his defensive metrics rate below average, while that speed that earned him 28 stolen bases just four years ago only earned him two in 2020. However, perhaps he’s finally found a home in right field after years of moving around the diamond.
Can Myers keep up the strong pace throughout a full 2021 season? It’s going to be difficult to match what he did in 2020, but if he can at least come close in his age 30 season, it will go a long way towards making the Padres’ batting lineup that much more dangerous.