It is no secret that the Astros haven’t genuinely settled on a center fielder following George Springer’s departure before the 2021 season. The position has become a carousel of current and former players in the meantime, with the likes of Myles Straw, Chas McCormick, Jake Meyers, José Siri, and Mauricio Dubón all manning the position in some capacity during the past few seasons. Of course, replacing someone like Springer is much easier in thought than practice. But the organization has acted like the next long-term fixture in center field wasn’t already in the organization until Drew Gilbert came aboard in the 2022 MLB Draft.
That said, unexpected developments occur often in this game, for good or ill. A top prospect status by itself isn’t a guarantee of future success. Then there are instances when a player isn’t all that touted but steps up at every stop. The Astros have had their fair share of the latter, especially as the drain of top prospects from the farm system has become more pronounced. One of these players is McCormick, who is in the middle of an impressive hot streak at the plate.
Since June 2: .346/.431/.626, 8 HR, 194 wRC+
Since June 2, only one hitter with 100 or more plate appearances has a higher wRC+ than McCormick: Shohei Ohtani. His recent performance has provided a much-needed boost to a lineup that had legitimate concerns without Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez. While this hot streak will not last forever, it does breed confidence about what this lineup could be when health is less of a factor. However, the common complaint with McCormick as a hitter since 2021 is two-fold: His inability to hit right-handers and breaking pitches, specifically sliders and sweepers. For good reason, I might add, as his overall numbers ranged from average at best to below average across 522 plate appearances before 2023 (103 wRC+ in 2021, 88 wRC+ in 2022) against right-handers. Against sliders and sweepers, in particular, McCormick has truly struggled.
Sliders from RHP, 2021-22: .114/.166/.193, 2 HR, 41.7% K%, -14.1 Batter Run Value
Sliders from LHP, 2021-22: .261/.308/.435, 2 HR, 34.6% K%, 0.4 Batter Run Value
To be fair, it wasn’t like Meyers also hits right-handers particularly well thus far in his career, but with his defense involved, Dusty Baker possibly felt as if Meyers offered a bit more overall upside than McCormick. I may not agree with that rationale, however, the stance isn’t farfetched. If McCormick was to force Baker’s hand, he would have to improve against right-handed pitchers, sliders, or both. Suffice it to say, McCormick has done both this season. But it is his performance against sliders that has truly drawn my attention.
Against sliders in 2023: .302/.351/.547, 31.6% K%, 4.0 Batter Run Value
Against sliders in 2023, RHP: .273/.333/.477, 33.3% K%, 1.8 Batter Run Value
Those numbers are why I am more of a believer in his current hot streak than I otherwise might’ve been. As reported by Chandler Rome of The Athletic, McCormick has adjusted his batting stance to stand taller in the box in addition to a new drill implemented by assistant hitting coach Jason Kinzler. In turn, McCormick’s pitch recognition skills have improved, which has helped him with sliders. Sure, he will cool down, but I am more about the process behind the results. These adjustments look real, at least at this moment.
For the better part of the past three seasons dating back to the trade deadline in 2021, the center field debate has centered around McCormick and Meyers. Ironically, Meyers’ hot start to his career back in 2021 helped enamored him with the organization in the first place. But injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from fully claiming the center field job, which has allowed McCormick to seize upon those opportunities. We’ve also already known that McCormick could hit fastballs well based on his 32.0 Batter Run Value for his career. But I think we’re now in the territory, at least for now, where McCormick is the unquestionable center fielder for the Astros. For nearly seven weeks, he has been one of the best hitters in baseball. If these adjustments stick, there is a lot more to like about his long-term potential than even a season ago.