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Addressing Jose Siri’s Potential

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The Astros took a flier on the talented outfielder last offseason, whose future success may hinge on reigning in his free-swinging ways.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Once a well-regarded outfield prospect in the Reds’ farm system as recently as 2019, Jose Siri found himself making his Major League debut with the Astros on September 3 of this year as a pinch-runner against the Padres. He wouldn’t take his first big league at-bat until the next day as a pinch-hitter. Both appearances were rather uneventful other than Siri being able to make the claim that he officially made it to the highest level of professional baseball in this country. Yes, a heartwarming moment for a player who has bounced around a few organizations to get to this point. You can’t help but feel good for the 26-year-old outfielder.

But Siri’s ultimate impact on the active roster was likely designed to be limited other than to steal bases and serve as a defensive replacement late in games. There is value with that assignment, especially in close games when every bit of an advantage matters. But the Astros suddenly have a glut of outfielders and Siri was on the outside looking in for consistent playing time. Well, that was the case until Michael Brantley’s untimely – albeit, non-serious – knee injury occurred on September 11. Following an eye-popping performance against the Rangers on September 13 (4-for-5, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R), the door was propped open a bit for Siri. While he hasn’t started every game since that day, Siri has been afforded more opportunities than I originally thought he would back at the time of his promotion. His overall performance has provided a spark to the lineup at times when it was needed. If this period of time before Brantley’s return and the postseason is part of his audition tape for the big leagues next season, then Siri is taking full advantage of the situation. Good for him!

We’ve all known for a while that Siri owns a tantalizing set of skills. When he hits the ball, the power is clear. He’s a threat to steal every time he gets on-base. While I can’t speak too much about his defense, he is considered more than adequate to patrol the outfield with little issues covering the space. It is quite simple to understand why he was considered one of Cincinnati’s top prospects for a spell as his potential is quite high. Alas, there is a major weakness in Siri’s profile, and it only heightens the risk of a tilt.

It is of no secret that Siri strikes out at an alarming rate, even by today’s standards when strikeouts aren’t viewed as negatively as in the past. He also doesn’t walk often enough to offset his strikeout tendencies. In his last four stops in the minor leagues, Siri’s strikeout rate has settled between the 30 to 35 percent range with a walk rate topping out at 8.5 percent in Double-A back in 2018. With the Skeeters this season, his walk rate was only 6.5 percent. That’s a concerning trend, to put it simply. Siri’s current strikeout-to-walk ratio (10-to-1) in 27 major league plate appearances is a continuation of what we already know, albeit a tiny sample. If we ignore that limited nature of this sample for a moment, his 19.1 percent swinging strike rate would only be second to Javier Baez’s rate of 21.6 percent this season. His swing rate at pitches outside of the strike zone is 52.9 percent. For additional context, Salvador Perez currently leads baseball with a 48.3 percent O-Swing rate. Those numbers just further illustrate Siri’s free-swinging ways.

But strikeout rates higher than 30 percent don’t necessarily preclude a hitter from being above average as we’ve seen with numerous cases in 2021. In fact, 17 of the top 20 hitters sorted by the highest strikeout rates are considered above-average hitters by work+ (100 equals’ average.) Baez, in fact, has made a career out of striking out at a high rate, walking too little, and hitting with power. Tyler O’Neill is doing something similar with the Cardinals this season (156 strikeouts to 38 walks.) Combined, these two players are worth more than eight wins based on the season. So, yes, a productive hitter can emerge from this profile, but I’d reckon the odds are noticeably lower.

When Siri makes contact, opposing pitchers better look out. If he gets on-base, he can wreak havoc as a runner. His defensive ability in the outfield is not an issue and considered, to my knowledge, a plus based on his reputation in the minors. But the only way he can fully take advantage of his tools is if he refines his swing tendencies to some degree. If he does, the potential is there for an impact player to emerge. If not, he’ll likely be stuck in a reserve outfielder role. Only time will tell, though.