The Rays' offense is off to a very slow start in 2014, so far scoring only 47 runs in 16 games. Young right fielder Wil Myers has not been helping the cause, as he has yet to homer and his batting average has dropped below .200.
In my season preview about Wil Myers, I highlighted his greatest strength: hitting the ball really hard. The Rays can live with his high strikeout rate as long as he produces. In order to produce, Myers is going to have to start making better contact.
The IF/FB% category measures what percentage of fly balls hit stay on the infield. Although this category includes line drives hit in the infield, in general this rate is going capture the percentage of fly balls that have no chance of becoming hits. So far in 2014, Myers has hit infield fly balls at a rate over twice that of the major league average. The large amounts of fly balls staying on the infield has contributed to Myers's homerless streak to begin this season.
Myers's line drive percentage is also down to begin the season, although line drives rarely turn into home runs, they do frequently become hits. After posting an above average line drive rate in his rookie season, Myers has dipped below the league average to start 2014, contributing to his lack of hits.
A year after crushing fastballs, Myers has so far this season struggled to make solid contact (or any contact in many instances) with the pitches he has seen.
wFB is the number of fastball runs above average. For comparison, Evan Longoria, coming into this season, has posted an average of 16.7 wFB per season. The chart above also highlights Myers's struggles making contact with pitches relative to last year's campaign. Myers has been swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%), while making less contact on those swings (O-Contact%). Consequently, his overall contact rate his decreased. The fewer balls a hitter puts in play, the fewer hits that hitter will accumulate.
Perhaps surprising (or not, given the Rays' putrid offensive production so far this season), Myers's BABIP is above the team's overall BABIP (.278 for Myers vs .259 for the Rays as a team). That .278 figure is still below where Myers can be reasonably expected to be- given the league average (usually between .290 and .310) , Myers's ability to hit the ball hard, and his BABIP from last season (.362). I would expect for that number to improve as Myers inevitably hits more line drives and stronger fly balls.
Before we become too pessimistic about Myers's performance, it's important to keep perspective. Writing this piece after only 58 plate appearances felt like a pointless exercise. If this slump occurred in August instead of April, it would not cause as much panic. Myers will not have a 28% infield fly ball rate at the end of the season. He will hit more line drives moving forward that will fall in for hits.
A good article (about hot shooting in basketball but applicable to hitting in baseball) is a piece on randomness by ESPN's Henry Abbott. To borrow from his example, every player has his own set of numbers on his dice. Sometimes, even for talented players, low numbers are rolled. Myers may just be a victim of low rolls of his dice to start 2014.