Judging the Royals

How’s that Wil Myers trade look now?

Tampa Bay’ Wil Myers struck out at Kauffman Stadium against the Royals in April.
Tampa Bay’ Wil Myers struck out at Kauffman Stadium against the Royals in April. The Kansas City Star

The Tampa Bay Rays recently traded away Wil Myers and now — with the benefit of hindsight — some people are willing to grudgingly admit that maybe Royals general manager Dayton Moore knew what he was doing when he traded Myers to get the pitching the Royals needed. At the time the trade was made, lots of people criticized Moore, but now that the Royals have won an American League championship, made it to game seven of the World Series and another team has decided it can live without Myers, people are revising their opinions.

Bear in mind that trading a player doesn’t necessarily mean his team has given up on him. A trade might mean that a team thinks it needs the players its going to get more than the players it has — Myers is still playing and might go on to have an outstanding career. But at least one columnist in Tampa Bay recently speculated that the Rays might be thinking that Myers was never going to become the player they once projected.

All teams and all GMs miss on players. After all, they’re trying to predict the future. And sometimes teams and GMs are trying to predict the future of young men who can make some pretty bad decisions along the way.

Here are three Wil Myers stories that might be of interest:

1.) During one spring training, there was a video made that featured Wil Myers and George Brett. The Royals Hall of Famer was going to show the Royals prospect how to put pine tar on a bat, but the Royals prospect started arguing … with George Brett … about pine tar. A small thing, but it might have indicated an attitude problem.

2.) While Myers was in the Rays minor-league system, he said he didn’t need a two-strike approach — he was a run a producer. Even though his team was asking him to adjust his swing once he had two strikes, Myers didn’t think it was necessary — and that definitely indicates an attitude problem.

3.) Nevertheless, Myers made it to the big leagues, and one day he was playing right field against the Royals. During that game, I saw Rays centerfielder David DeJesus moving Myers into the right position. I don’t know if that was a regular occurrence, but if it was, that means that Myers hadn’t studied the spray charts and wasn’t paying attention to his outfield coach.

It also appeared that not much had changed when Myers was hitting with two strikes. In 2013, Myers struck out 91 times in 335 at bats; in 2014, it was 90 times in 325 at bats. While with the Rays Myers said his two-strike approach was to avoid having two strikes. But guys who are afraid to hit with two strikes are vulnerable. In an attempt to avoid strikeouts, they often expand their strike zone after only one strike. Here’s how that works:

Most of the time hitters look for a fastball in an 0-0 count. If a pitcher can drop a first-pitch curve or slider in the zone a hitter is likely to take that pitch. With the count 0-1 the pitcher can then go to the corners and get hitters to chase borderline pitches. The hitter might avoid strikeouts, but is still making outs.

Myers won Rookie of the Year and had an outstanding season in 2013 (.293/.354/.478). In 2014, his numbers were down (.222/.294/.320). Myers did get hurt in 2014, but his numbers were down before he got injured, so that wouldn’t entirely explain the decline.

Royals pitcher Wade Davis once said that when a hitter first gets to the big leagues, pitchers try a variety of tactics to get that hitter out. Over time the hot and cold zones — the parts of the strike zone the hitter hits well or poorly — become apparent. Once the league figures out how to attack a hitter, it’s up to that hitter to make an adjustment. Hitters who get stubborn scuffle. This is part of why we see so many sophomore slumps: the league has figured out how to attack a hitter and the hitter has yet to adjust.

Now here’s quote attributed to Myers: “This year, I kind of came into spring training thinking I had already arrived and didn’t really work as hard as I should have.”

The website Fangraphs calls Wins Above Replacement an “all-inclusive” statistic, but unless it has a category for attitude, it seems to have missed at least one important factor. I’ve got no idea if the Royals thought Myers had an attitude problem — something fans can’t know from looking at numbers — but a very smart ballplayer once told me some trades get made because the other team doesn’t know what’s wrong with your guy.

None of this means Wil Myers will not eventually adjust and become a very good big league ballplayer. At one point Alex Gordon was on the verge of being considered a bust. At that time a lot of people thought he was playing his way out of the big leagues. But at some point the light went on, Gordon adjusted his game and is now one of the best leftfielders in baseball.

But what this does mean is that a whole lot of people were wrong about the Shields/Myers trade in the first place. Given what’s happened since, how’s that trade look now?

To reach Lee Judge, call 816-234-4482 or send email to ljudge@kcstar.com.