Early in the season there was plenty of talk about the Houston Astros not only needing to upgrade their bullpen, but there appeared to be a gigantic hole in center field and the corresponding spot in the lineup that was previously manned by George Springer.
No one expected Myles Straw to be Springer, and to be fair to Straw, he has improved as the season has progressed and has contributed significantly to the Astros surge over the last month and a half, while a lot of that talk has died down.
The question is if Myles Straw’s recent surge is sustainable and, if it is, is it enough?
Centerfield is generally considered a premium offensive position and a look around the AL West only reinforces this thought: Mike Trout in Anaheim (when not injured), Ramon Laureano in Oakland and Adolis Garcia in Arlington are all examples.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare Straw to those players, too, as the Astros were aware of his limitations prior to 2021. He wasn’t going to wake up and smash 20 home runs. That said, I’m guessing they expected a bit more than they’ve received to this point of the season.
Not hitting the ball out of the park regularly is one thing, but when your exit velocity is in the 13th percentile, hard hit rate is in the 2nd and your barrel % in the 4th, it may be time to look at options. There’s just not enough hard contact to hope for anything other than marginal improvement.
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There are good aspects to Straw’s game. He doesn’t wiff or chase much, he’s obviously got speed and has an above average jump on defense. His current .266 average would seem serviceable, but the expected average of .241 is far more realistic in my view and an xwOBA of .291 will likely mitigate Straw’s biggest advantage – speed – to a large extent.
If those expected metrics come to fruition, the Astros would have a player at a premium offensive position batting below average, with little power, that doesn’t get on base much. The Astros have a lineup that can generally withstand a hole here and there through the regular season with games against lesser teams and pitchers, but things will be different come playoff time.
There are those that think Chas McCormick may be the answer, and while I love what McCormick has done this season, I’m not sure it’s optimal for a rookie with 140 at bats and 70 innings in center field to be the guy headed down the stretch and into the playoffs, especially since I’m of the opinion that McCormick will be facing adjustments over the second half of the season.
If the Astros decide to make a move at this position it’ll be fascinating to see how the roster is managed. As mentioned above, Straw has some attributes that you want on your team, but McCormick, although inexperienced, has performed better to date. If neither are in the overall plan, the Astros could be eyeing a different position at the trade deadline.