For the better part of three seasons now, the Astros have rotated through an assorted cast of center fielders. Success has varied, with Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers accumulating the most fWAR at the position. One of the critical questions I had entering the season was exactly how the center field situation would resolve itself. Even with a 111 wRC+ in his first two seasons with no other options performing better, McCormick has had irregular playing time. Outside circumstances or an impeccably timed hot streak at the plate has forced Dusty Baker’s hand in keeping McCormick in the lineup more times than not. Meyers, on the other hand, has seemingly held the favor of not only Baker but previous general manager James Click. His 2021 debut at the plate — 109 wRC+ in 163 plate appearances — in addition to his defensive capabilities made him a favorite of the organization. From the outside looking in, even with Dana Brown now in charge of the front office, Meyers appears to remain a favorite of the baseball operations department. Before his shoulder injury in the 2021 ALDS and subsequent recovery, he had the inside track. That same injury has arguably altered the trajectory for both Meyers and McCormick.
However, McCormick’s production this season, especially at the plate (.275/.368/.522, 15 HR, 146 wRC+ in 286 PA), has reached a point where the Astros couldn’t justify not having him in the lineup. He has become one of the five best hitters on the roster. That hasn’t been the case with Meyers, who has had some rough stretches at the plate since his return from his shoulder injury. Yes, Meyers’ defense provides a nice floor, at least the equivalent of a glove-first fourth outfielder with part-time platoon capabilities, as evidenced by his stronger career numbers against left-handed pitchers (126 wRC+ in 167 PA). The bat against right-handed pitchers (80 wRC+ in 438 PA) holds the key to whether that’ll become his ultimate role or something more significant.
It is sometimes easy to forget what a player can do when provided with adequate opportunity. McCormick is a pertinent example. Of course, Meyers has had his own chances thus far, but it is worth keeping in mind that he has only had 601 career plate appearances before Sunday’s game against the Yankees, about a full season’s worth. Plus, he has also dealt with a challenging recovery from a shoulder injury. But on the days when it all comes together for him, it is clear why the Astros haven’t quite given up on him, at least yet.
To reiterate, it isn’t Meyers’ bat against left-handed pitchers to stress about. It is above average in this regard. Both of his home runs Sunday against the Yankees, for example, occurred when a southpaw was on the mound. But right-handed pitchers have become the elephant in the room when discussing his offensive profile, mostly against breaking and offspeed pitches. Below are his wOBA and xwOBA by pitch group this season.
Fastballs from RHP
Breaking from RHP
Offspeed from RHP
Drilling down further, Meyers has obviously struggled against four-seam fastballs, sliders and curveballs from right-handers. Below are his Batter Run Values against the three pitch types from right-handed pitchers dating back to his debut in 2021.
Batter Run Value against RHP
Four-seam fastballs: -4.1 runs
Curveballs: -4.9 runs
Sliders: -4.3 runs
If we concentrate on only 2023 Batter Run Values, Meyers has actually performed worse against fastballs (-5.2 runs) while moderately improving against sliders (-3.0 runs) and curveballs (-2.5 runs). But with right-handers throwing four-seamers more than any other pitch this season (27.5%), he’ll have to improve his performance against that offering to take the next step. Until Meyers does that much, it remains doubtful he could ever reach his ceiling.
With the news that Corey Julks was optioned to Sugar Land, the speculation is that the Astros will promote Jon Singleton to bolster the bench with a left-handed bat. It also means that Meyers’ playing time will likely stabilize to some degree as McCormick could easily slide over into left field when Yordan Alvarez is the DH. Of course, Michael Brantley’s potential return may complicate matters once again, but it is far from a guarantee that he will actually return. In the meantime, Meyers has the chance to build upon his recent performance. If he does, then the Astros outfield situation looks increasingly crowded to close out the season.