When the news initially broke about the Astros trading Myles Straw to Cleveland, it came as a surprise. After all, the club didn’t have tremendous depth in the outfield, especially in centerfield, and Straw was playing at a relatively acceptable level (2.0 fWAR, 91 wRC+) for a player with his profile. Without a more established centerfielder coming into town – say, Bryon Buxton – it felt like a rather peculiar trade for a middling reliever in Phil Maton and a minor-league catcher. Not a bad swap of players, mind you, but sort of odd.
By trading Straw, however, it did create an opening in the outfield on the active roster. The Astros decided to fill that void by promoting Jake Meyers, who was traditionally known in the minors for his defense more so than his bat. But, as noted by our own Dan Martin in late August, Meyers saw his stock take a noticeable jump due to his improvements as a hitter. Specifically, it was an increase in power that caught everyone’s attention as the 25-year-old hit 16 home runs along with a .168 ISO in 304 plate appearances in Triple-A. For a hitter with only 20 home runs in his previous three seasons combined, you can’t help but pay attention. Pair that improvement as a hitter with his defensive capabilities, it became relatively clear rather quick why the Astros chose to promote Meyers.
We’re now 44 games – or 146 plate appearances – into Meyers’ career as a major league outfielder and the results have been generally encouraging. While the sample size remains too small to draw many firm conclusions thus far, it is a step in the right direction to see that his power is as advertised along with his defensive range. Prior to September 13, Meyers had a 116 wRC+ in his first 110 plate appearances, although his 6-to-38 walk-to-strikeout ratio poked out like a sore thumb. But the early results were encouraging, and it was worth pondering if Meyers could supplant Chas McCormick as the “regular” in center field, especially with the latter’s left-hand injury last month considered.
But baseball is a journey filled with adjustments and regression. It was only a matter of time before we saw Meyers’ numbers regressed in some fashion. For example, Meyers had an unsustainable .400 BABIP in those first 110 plate appearances. The league average BABIP for non-pitchers through September 13 was .292. Since then? A .190 BABIP with a 70 wRC+. Even if Meyers can sustain a higher-than-average BABIP in the long-term, the odds of him sustaining a mark of .400 or anywhere near that level is impossible. Only 11 qualified hitters have a BABIP higher than .350 and Starling Marte tops the list with at .372. It is interesting to note that Meyers has adjusted his swing tendencies, which has caused his walk rate to rise (11.1 percent since September 14) in conjunction with a lower strikeout rate (22.2 percent).
Regression to the mean was due to occur at some point. Plus, pitchers are about adjusting to hitters. The game of baseball, in my opinion, is all about implementing only the most necessary of adjustments. Tendencies against pitch types, sequencing, velocity, and location play vital roles in how a pitcher may choose to throw to a hitter. In Meyers’ case, I think opposing pitchers are starting to choose their locations more wisely.
Prior to September 14
Since September 14
While regression is in the cards for this recent downturn in performance, I am also curious to further determine how much of it can be accurately attributed to adjustments from opposing pitchers. More research is ultimately required, though. In any case, we will need to watch this centerfield situation rather closely with the postseason nearly upon us. Meyers and McCormick have taken turns playing above expectations and regressing since late July. Their play in the next week or so may play some determining factor of who receives the primary gig in the postseason. We will see.