On Maddon, Myers, and Survival
It did not take long for Wil Myers figure out that the major league level was not all grand slams and curtain calls. It is a more nuanced game that is rooted in exploitation and adjustments. Pitchers and hitters are always searching for ways to capitalize each other’s mistakes with an understanding of the need to adapt in an ever-changing environment.
The league adjusted to Myers quickly than he did to it. Following a week of grandiose displays of power, the organization’s top prospect was humbled by first-pitch breaking balls, fading sliders, and higher quality fastballs with more control and command than he was used to.
Aside from acclimating to major league pitching, Myers also had to adjust to the curveball of life. Since being called up on June 18, he played 21 games in 21 days. This includes both ends of a double-header on the day of his debut. He traveled from Durham to Boston, Boston to New York, New York to St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg to Houston, and finally back St. Pete within the three week span. He spent his lone off day – June 27 – looking for a place to live and shopping for more clothes than the ones he packed.
Joe Maddon is as much a manager of people as he is of baseball related items. Perhaps seeing his young star sinking a little, he threw him a life preserver and awarded him a day off on July 9. Some may question the idea of giving a 22-year-old a day of rest, but not Maddon. “I don’t care what their birth certificate says,” he explained.” “I was just trying to figure out the best day for him, so I did a little research on it today and decided to go with tonight off.” The youngster admitted he appreciated the time off to settle in a bit.
Myers did not pass the day in idle. He spent time with hitting coach Derek Shelton to correct a mechanical flaw that was making his swing longer than he liked. The hitch was causing him to miss pitches over the plate that a player of his talent should be hitting with authority. Myers’ setup and swing are so methodical it is hard to tell exactly where the fix took place, but the results since suggest there may have indeed been a need for slight alteration.
Since the day off, and the extra time in the cage, Myers has been on a tear. He has 18 hits in his last 40 plate appearances after notching just six in his previous 40. After missing on nearly 30 percent of his swings early on, he is now whiffing on fewer than 14 percent of hacks. Looking at the visual data, you can see those pitches over the plate that were swinging misses or outs have now been set a blaze. Even when it makes an out, it is usually a loud one.
Eventually the pendulum swings. At some point, pitchers will stop feeding Myers fastballs and serve him something different. The burden will then fall back on Myers to develop a taste for something new or go hungry. Until then, enjoy the feast.
Data and visuals courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info with a hat tip to Mark Simon.