If you’ve been reading the Bear or Bull series, you probably think that I’m some old dude that likes missionary and doesn’t know what bling is. Murphy over Odor and Bradley over Buxton? Well, I did soup up my rice burners almost a decade before the first Fast and Furious movie was released and I have shifted my investment portfolio allocation slightly away from growth. I just talked about investment portfolio allocation. SMH. Anyways, to prove that I can still get my YOLO on and be hip, I’m eschewing the safety and embracing the dark side by advocating Wil Myers (NFBC average ADP 58) over Jose Abreu (NFBC average ADP 63). Many will probably argue that’s not a big deal, but tell a smoker it’s not a big deal for not puffing two straight days after 20+ years of the habit. Baby steps. Enjoy this week’s musical interlude. Man, I am old…
Myers was drafted (2009) out of high school by the Kansas City Royals to be a catcher. He was projected to be a first-rounder, but fell to the third round due to signability questions. Scouts liked his quick bat speed and smooth swing. His speed was viewed as adequate, but it was the 25-30 home run potential with mature approach at the plate that enticed all in the baseball world. After spending four years in the Royals’ minor league system, Myers was the headline piece in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis. Myers did win AL Rookie of the Year in 2013, but only played 87 games the following year due to a stress fracture in his right wrist. He was then traded to the San Diego Padres in 2015 and was only able to play in 60 games due to injuries to the other wrist. THEN, like the Kool-Aid man delivering a quench for our thirst, Myers hit 28 home runs with 28 steals, scored 99 runs, and drove in 94 in 157 games. Oh yeah!
That’s a monster year and is definitely an outlier, if you just look at the back of the baseball card. Let’s dig deeper into the metrics and see if it’s repeatable. The BABIP was .305. That number was .302 in 2015 and has never been below .286 in the majors. The walk rate was 10.1% and strike out rate was 23.7%. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. The line drive rate was 21.4%, which was 5-6% higher than the two previous seasons. He did hit both fewer ground balls and fly balls, which kept his GB/FB rate of 1.32 in line. The big jump was in the HR/FB rate, from 13.6% to 18.7%. That number placed him #31 in all of baseball. The initial thought is regression, but if you take a look at the infield fly ball rate, it dropped from 11.9% to 6%. That tells me that he wasn’t getting fooled as often and able to handle the high and tight pitches. That number is not an anamoly, as he had a 6% IFFB rate in 2013 as well. Myers did pull the ball less and went to the opposite field more. I love that kind of approach, especially when power is not sacrificed. 15 of the 28 home runs that Myers hit went to center field or right field. The soft contact rate did go up from 13.5% to 16.7%, but the hard rate was 33.6%, which was in line.
Now, you all know that I love plate discipline, so this is where I was most interested in where Myers was at. He swung at 26.2% of pitches out of the strike zone. That was the 36th-best mark in all of baseball last year. When he did swing at pitches out of the zone, the contact rate was 69.7%, up from 52.7%. That helped him improve his overall contact rate to 80.3% from 76.3%. I can definitely see some regression in that number, but another way of looking at it could be that 2016 was the first year in which he was able to log over 375 plate appearances in a season. I’m not sure how to interpret this number, so I’ll be keeping my eye on it this year. His contact rate in the strike zone has always been excellent (86.5%), but what really impresses me is that the swinging strike rate has gone from 11.5% to 10.3% to 9.9% and 8% over the past four years.
I’m liking what I see from the hitting perspective. Let’s touch on the counting stats, namely the stolen bases, runs, and RBI. Myers was 28-of-34 (82%) on stolen base attempts last year. Jason Kipnis was the 10th-best in SB% with a 83.33 mark. Brad Johnson of RotoGraphs.com wrote why he thinks Myers will continue to run in 2017. I 100% agree with him. The Padres are going to be bad, so they will need to find ways to manufacture offense. Plus, he displayed efficiency in that department last year. The runs and RBI will be more difficult to replicate. Myers will be batting third, but Jankowski and Margot are at the top of the lineup with Solarte and Renfroe behind. Exactly. An optimist would point out that last year’s lineup was doo doo as well, so there’s that. In addition, I don’t see any team needing to pitch around Myers because the Padres will be bad, so he should get pitches to hit. With that said, if he does start getting Barry Bonds treatment, that could elevate the stolen base opportunities and runs scored.
Jose Abreu came over to the USA from Cuba in 2013. Talk about good timing, huh? He’s 30 years old….allegedly. He took MLB by storm his rookie year, slugging 36 home runs and driving in 107 with a .317 average. Since then, the homers have gone from 36 to 30 to 25 last year. He scored 67 runs last year after being in the 80’s the prior two years. The RBI have been over 100, but have ticked down every year (107, 101. 100). The ISO went from .264 to .212 to .175. The BABIP from .356 to .333 to .327. The average has hovered in the .290 to .317 range. The HR/FB rate has gone from 26.9% to 19.7% to 14.8% last year. Do you see a theme here?
We all know that baseball is a game of adjustments. In Abreu’s case, the league started pounding him inside. As Eno Sarris noted on a recent podcast episode of the Sleeper and the Bust, Abreu is such a good hitter that he’s willing to go the other way, instead of turning on the inside pitch. Until he makes that adjustment, the ceiling is limited. My biggest fear with Abreu is that he starts cheating to turn on the inside pitch. He already swings at 39.7% of pitches out of the strike zone, which was 11th-worst in all of baseball last year. If he starts cheating to the inside pitch, that would make him more vulnerable outside, which could increase his swinging strike rate of 11.5%.
There is also no stolen base potential with Abreu, as he has a grand total of three over three seasons. He does have a better lineup around him than Myers and will bat for a higher average, but Abreu is too vanilla for my tastebuds here. Now, there’s risk with Myers for sure. He only hit .259 and struck out 160 times. In addition, last year was the first time he played more than 100 games and the price inflation has been Venezuelan-esque. With that said, I mentioned earlier that I do get my YOLO on from time to time. Case in point, when I go to Yogurtland with my kids, I mix different flavors AND put on toppings galore. I’m willing to stomach the downside and cost with Myers over the blandness and relative safety of Abreu.