There’s a ton to like about the way Cleveland is playing right now. Beyond the fact that, as of this writing, they’re above .500, second in the division, and third in the Wild Card race (in June, I know, but still). We also have a ton of fun, young players to watch evolve playing next to an absolutely incandescent José Ramírez. All these new names popping up, from Andrés Giménez to Steven Kwan to Owen Miller and now Oscar Gonzalez, and we haven’t even gotten into the real top-end talent laying in wait on the farm.
Perhaps taken for granted now, or at least glossed over a bit, was a piece the Guardians picked up last year in exchange for a minor-leaguer and a middling bullpen arm: Myles Straw. It’s hard to see the impact a player can have without looking at a slash line or his ERA, but Straw is a perfect example of the kind of guy that’s doing it in other ways.
The Guardians have a penchant for finding players that might not be able to hit too well but can have an incredibly outside impact elsewhere. From Yan Gomes to Roberto Perez, we got to watch some truly stunning catchers work behind the plate, even if their average hung around Mario Mendoza. Even a decade ago, they shelled out big (for them) bucks to bring over Michael Bourne, not for his bat or stolen bases but because he would secure center field for years to come.
That didn’t work out, but there’s a plain organizational philosophy that securing the middle of the diamond, from catcher to shortstop/second base and out to center is a good path to at least a solid defense. Straw is a perfect example of that.
And really, he’s just incredible out there. By basically any defensive metric he’s been an absolute star. He sits in peak percentiles in every defensive and speed stat on Baseball Savant:
He’s 14th in baseball in outs above average for outfielders and sixth among center fielders, and covers ground like a dang gazelle. Look at where he’s made outs so far this year:
Now, part of this is that he — or the team — is very good at placing himself in the right place to start at-bats, but that’s part of defense too, right? He’s not just standing in center, he’s using the knowledge he has to be where he needs to be, as evidenced here:
The worst part of this is that he doesn’t have a ton of highlights. I dug through every one of his field outs this year and found like six or seven plays that ESPN might have called a Web Gem 15 years ago. Most of them just look like this catch he made to put out Whit Merrifield:
That seemed easy, but looking at the ground he covered, and knowing the size of the outfield at Progressive field - especially in right–center and right - you know that this was not some easy old can’o’corn or whatever. That said, he still does stuff like this:
On a regular basis. This is some kind of a delight, having him out there patrolling center. That he’ll be there for years to come is just icing on the cake. It’d be nice if he could hit a bit more, a 72 OPS+ is not exactly burning down the barn, but he is drawing walks at a decent clip. That’s not what we care about anyway. There’s a defensive ace in center, and he’s making life easier on his teammates. And more than that - maybe most of all - he’s a total blast to watch out there. Another piece of a wonderful team that we get to watch get great.