In his first half season in the majors, Wil Myers was impressive. He hit .293/.354/.478 with 13 home runs and five steals, handily winning the AL Rookie of the Year despite not playing a game before June 18.
This year has been a different story for Myers. He’s hitting just .227 with an OBP barely clear of .300. His four home runs and one steal are well short of the paces he set in 2013. His strikeout rate, walk rate, and batted ball profile are very similar to last season. There’s no obvious culprit, but Myers has been bad.
Because of his success as a rookie and because of his former status as one of the top prospects in baseball, many of his owners will be willing to continue to start Myers with the hope he can turn his season around. I would do the same. Even if his vanished power remains a mystery, his .286 BABIP is 76 points lower than it was in 2013, which suggests his batting average, at least, could improve with a change in fortune. However, a peculiarity in his numbers makes me question that assertion.
Myers’ six stolen bases in his short career indicate at least a modicum of speed, even if he has rarely shown it this season. A chance at double-digit steals is a bonus from a player presumed to have 25-plus homer potential, but it hardly makes Myers one of the speediest players in the sport. What’s strange, then, is that Myers already has 11 infield hits this season. That ties him with Brett Gardner and Jose Altuve—both of whom have already reached 10 steals—for the most in baseball this season. And Myers also had 10 infield hits in 2013. His combined total of 21 infield hits over the last year does not quite make him the leader; he’s just two-thirds of the way to Norichika Aoki and Jean Segura. However, it does make him one of the few leaders in infield hits who does not also have a ton of stolen bases.
|Most Infield Hits, Last Calendar Year|
The 18 players who have 20 or more infield hits over the last year have averaged 23 steals over the same stretch. Myers has six. He is one of only six of those players with fewer than 16 steals in that time.
I would not have expected Myers’ string of infield hits to continue, but what may be even stranger than the statistical oddity itself is that the other high-infield hit, low-stolen base guys have made it a trend. Veterans Adam Jones and Dustin Pedroia have recorded six and five seasons with an 8.0 percent infield hit rate or better, respectively. The infield hit rate for all players, not just the slower ones, is 6.4 percent this season. Even J.J. Hardy, who has never stolen three bases in a season, has exceeded an 8.0 percent infield hit rate four times in his career.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Perhaps Myers hustles down the line more often than most players. Perhaps his swing produces more in-between balls on poor contact. Whatever the case, Myers’ career batting average of .268 is 19 points better than it would be if his 11.5 percent infield hit rate was the 6.4 percent average rate. Just this season, a league-average infield hit rate would drop his average to .191. Myers will have to hope that players like Pedroia, Jones, and Hardy provide a template of infield hits that he can follow. Or that he can start to produce like he did in 2013, when a handful fewer infield hits will not be enough to dampen his owners’ spirits.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt