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Now is the time for the Astros to give Chas McCormick a trial run in center field

It increasingly looks like there’s only one real option in center field for the Astros. They’ve just been strangely hesitant to give their second-year outfielder a serious look at the position.

MLB: JUL 21 Yankees at Astros Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2022 has been a strange year for Chas McCormick.

After turning in a productive rookie campaign in 2021, the Astros’ second-year outfielder has made strides at the plate in 2022 while facing obstacles in the form of multiple platoon partners.

Instead of giving one player consistent playing time in center field, Dusty Baker has instead opted to implement a rotation of sorts throughout the season. And though McCormick has outperformed his competition, he’s remained in largely a reserve role.

But on the heels of his best month as a big leaguer according to wRC+, it might not be long before McCormick forces Baker’s hand.

Across 80 plate appearances in July, the righty-swinging, lefty-throwing Pennsylvania native slashed .269/.388/.478 with 4 home runs and registered an excellent walk rate of 16.3 percent while striking out just 22.5 percent of the time.

On the season, McCormick is hitting .236/.325/.425 with 11 homers (117 wRC+) through 265 plate appearances. He is one of five qualified Astros hitters with a double-digit Barrel rate and has quality peripherals overall, which all add up to a 69th percentile xwOBA.

In addition to his above-average output at the plate, McCormick has continued to supply solid or better defense in all three outfield spots, as evidenced by advanced metrics such as OAA and DRS, which have more or less matched the eye test.

According to OAA, McCormick has prevented more runs than any other Astros defender since 2021.

Still, it seems that in the eyes of Baker, McCormick is not yet deserving of steady playing time.

A former 21st-round pick, McCormick has played a fair amount in 2022, but isn’t quite considered to be one of the club’s true everyday players like Kyle Tucker or Alex Bregman, who have 97 and 99 starts, respectively. McCormick, who’s provided a lot of value versus lefties this year (.614 SLG, 15.2 K%), has 65. Of those 65, 28 have been in center field.

Earlier in the season, McCormick had been in a platoon with José Siri, an exceptional defender but inept hitter. While Siri had primarily been in the minor leagues since being optioned in late June — and has since been traded to the Rays — McCormick was still losing playing time despite promising results, featuring significant improvement in the strikeout department:

This was because something coincided with Siri’s demotion to Triple-A Sugar Land: Jake Meyers’ return from injury.

Like McCormick, Meyers was a rookie in 2021 who contributed in a meaningful way, and ultimately received the lion’s share of playing time in center field during the final weeks of the regular season.

When activated on June 24 this year, Meyers, who is perceived to be the more “natural” center fielder, immediately stepped into an everyday role, starting eight consecutive games.

McCormick, who has been healthy throughout the season, has only had one stretch of consecutive starts that long (9), which occurred between late April and early May.

Since June 24, Meyers has started nearly 53 percent of the Astros’ games, while McCormick, despite a remarkably productive July, has started roughly 40 percent of the team’s contests during that time span.

Entering Friday, Meyers has a .214/.261/.320 slash (66 wRC+) and a 34.2 percent strikeout rate in 111 plate appearances.

Given the impressive two-way ability he flashed as a rookie, it’s understandable why Meyers has often started since being activated. But now several weeks later — with the regular season scheduled to end exactly two months from today — it seems unlikely he’ll be able to right the ship in a big way.

To be fair to Meyers, he wasn’t afforded a normal offseason due to shoulder surgery, but as things stand, it’s rather apparent that he brings less to the table.

The same can be said about Mauricio Dubón, who appears to have entered the center-field picture, having garnered 13 starts there (including each of the last two games) since being acquired from the Giants in May via trade.

Despite an abysmal .217/.263/.331 slash line (69 wRC+) across 173 plate appearances in 2022, the 28-year-old Dubón has seemingly become another option for Baker at the 8-spot. It’s a position he’s certainly capable of playing defensively, but like Meyers, he’s an easy out at the plate.

Though he may be viewed more as a corner outfielder, McCormick has flashed above-average or better range defensively, which is backed by a Sprint Speed that has been in the top 20 percent in baseball since 2021. All signs indicate that he can at least be an average center fielder, if not better. Coupled with his effective bat — which appears notably more refined as a sophomore — he boasts a profile that is markedly superior to his teammates:

Astros center fielders

Player wRC+ xwOBA OAA
Player wRC+ xwOBA OAA
Chas McCormick 117 .333 3
Jake Meyers 66 .249 5
Mauricio Dubón 69 .289 1
via FanGraphs and Statcast

McCormick is not without his own shortcomings, as he’s struggled against right-handed pitching this year (84 wRC+) in 186 plate appearances. That said, in his brief career, McCormick owns a more respectable 95 wRC+ against righties in 416 plate appearances. Moreover, there could be an element of bad luck that’s somewhat hampered his numbers, considering he currently has a .309 xwOBA against a .281 wOBA versus righties.

With the trade deadline now in the rear view and the playoffs approaching, the Astros have a sufficient window of time to see what Chas McCormick, Everyday Center Fielder would look like before another postseason run commences.

At this point, Baker has every reason to end his pointless game of musical chairs. There’s not much more to be discovered about Meyers or Dubón, only how truly viable McCormick is, and that cannot be known until he’s given a legitimate trial run.

Considering the alternatives, the Astros would have nothing to lose and everything to gain.