Right when the Astros lost George Springer to the Toronto Blue Jays —a day when they almost lose Michael Brantley as well— there wasn’t a lot of optimism in the environment of the team. Myles Straw, who was supposed to be the fourth outfielder to start the new season, was now penciled in as the new everyday center-fielder for Houston.
There were few doubts about Straw’s excellent fielding skills, but there was uncertainty with his offense. Even though no one was expecting 35 home runs from Straw’s bat, many were asking themselves: Could he fill the void left after Springer’s departure? Months after that, he’s certainly done as well as could be expected.
Last year, the Astros’ outfield was tied for the 10th most valuable in the Majors, with a 3.7 fWAR. This time, it’s the best outfield in the MLB in terms of fWAR, with a 7.1, a bit higher than the Dodgers’ 6.8. That’s without Springer’s dingers, but with Straw’s defense and speed primarily, along with Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker — and also Yordan Álvarez and Chas McCormick, who don’t appear every day in the yard.
Straw has fulfilled most expectations with his bat so far. He got to the All-Star break hitting .313/.407/.414/.821 since June 8, a span in which he’s played in 30 games and has recorded 99 at-bats. Over that period, Straw’s registered four doubles, two home runs, nine RBIs, 20 runs scored, 17 walks, and six stolen bases.
That .407 OBP, by the way, is the seventh-best in the American League since June 8, only behind Nelson Cruz (.426), Giancarlo Stanton and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.420), Shohei Ohtani (.414), David Fletcher (.410), and teammate Brantley (.408).
The Straw experiment didn’t pay off from the beginning. He finished April with a low .212 batting average, but closed May with .237, June with .268, and got to the All-Star break hitting .266.
Look at Straw’s hits spray chart from 2021...
That’s a lot of singles, right? Exactly! Straw rarely gets extra-base hits. In fact, only 4.2 percent of his hits end up with him beyond first base, well below the MLB average of 8.2 percent. But when your speed ranks 95th percentile (top of the league) and you have an elite contact rate (87.6%), you will be valuable no matter what.
You need to add the fact of Straw’s impressive fielding in center field. He covers huge ground and also ranks 95th percentile in outs above average, which means that, besides making the routine plays, he makes outstanding plays that not everyone does.
All of this has helped Myles to have a 1.3 bWAR (Springer’s at 0.1, BTW, due to injury) and be an excellent complement to what Brantley and Tucker can both do offensively for an Astros team that still has a pretty powerful, dangerous lineup.