Coming into the 2021 season, the Astros’ center field job was Myles Straw’s to lose. He performed well in spring training and has been Dusty Baker’s guy ever since. Baker recently reaffirmed his belief in Straw, who is struggling to hit, noting how difficult it is to judge a player based on 100 at-bats. The trouble is, it’s not just his at-bats that are worrisome.
Through 150 plate appearances, Straw is slashing .214/.295/.260, with 5 steals in 8 attempts. On the surface, this is non-existent production. A wRC+ of 68 — the 20th-worst in baseball among qualified hitters — confirms that.
The lack of contribution offensively is disappointing after a strong spring showing, but it’s also not terribly surprising, given that numerous projection systems had the Astros’ center fielder billed as below-average at the plate. What is quite concerning, however, has been Straw’s lack of impact defensively.
It needs to be mentioned that advanced defensive metrics ideally need a full season or so before being totally legitimized. Having said that, early returns across the board have not been kind to Straw.
According to Statcast’s Outs Above Average (OAA), his defense is 32nd percentile. Per Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), he is below-average. Baseball Prospectus’s Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) ranks Straw’s defense 26th among center fielders.
This isn’t meant to be indicative of Straw’s true abilities in center field, especially in such a small sample size, but it’s hard to ignore a consensus such as this one. Putting significant stock in it is another conversation, but the problem that stems from this data is the potential downgrade in Straw’s overall profile.
The attribute he is most known for is his blazing speed, and with that should come quality defense in center field. It’s not always a guarantee that fast players make for effective defenders in the outfield, but Straw needs to be one. What’s more, he can’t merely be a solid defender, but one who consistently impacts the game in that facet. Without a viable offensive profile, providing strong defense is an absolute necessity.
Like most things in April and May, it’s too early to conclusively make an accurate assessment on this matter. Since the Astros don’t presently have any clear alternatives in center, the best option for the time being might be to do nothing. Offensively, the ceiling is low for Straw, and that’s OK — plus defense in center field can make up for a lot. He may yet provide that, but the clock is ticking.