If any of you follow me on social media, you’ll know that Myles Straw is part of my brand. Specifically, loving and respecting Myles Straw is part of my brand. I don’t know when or how or why it started, but at some point I and a few others began posting “In this house we love and respect Myles Straw!” whenever he positively contributed in a game. So, purely based on defense and vibes, I love Myles Straw, and it is hard for me to set my heart aside and look objectively at the Guardians’ outfield problem, because, really, Myles Straw is the outfield problem.
Though the problem does not have anything to do with the outfield. There are always plenty of opportunities for saying “In this house we love and respect Myles Straw!” purely based on what he does defensively in a game. He saved entire games with his arm at least twice, let alone what he’s able to do with his glove, and his ability to seemingly always be in the right place combined with his speed makes him an elite center fielder.
But (and I think I can say this without any lack of love or respect to Myles Straw) his offensive numbers have not been where any of us would like them to be over the last two seasons. I’m sure his offensive numbers are not where Myles would like them to be, either. On the one hand, the argument can be made that having his bat in the lineup is worth it because of the great defense he provides, essentially, that he’ll save more games with his glove, speed, and arm than he’ll cost the team at the plate. And, the tools are there. Myles is a threat on the bases. We’ve seen stretches where he has hit the ball to right successfully and he can turn singles into doubles. If he were able to get on base more consistently than what he does now, he would be a fantastic 9 hitter. The threat of his speed on the bases with Steven Kwan coming up next, so that just putting the ball in play, which Kwan does extremely well, could lead to a run, is a really great asset to have. When Myles is going well at the plate, and he did have some stretches this year where he was, the whole lineup seems to perform and turn over better. I really want to believe that the talent is in there somewhere for him to be the kind of player we thought we saw when he arrived from Houston.
But, he has now had two sub-par offensive seasons. How long can we really afford to wait for those things to happen, if they ever will? And the current construction of the Guardians roster makes his situation particularly frustrating. It’s one thing to have a guy or even two in your lineup that are mostly there for their defense, if the rest of your lineup can really hit. If you have multiple people in your lineup who can hit for power; if you have three or four or more players who can change the score of a game with one swing of the bat, you can hide your elite center fielder’s bat in there and it might not even impact that many games. But we all know that the Guardians do not have that kind of roster. The Guardians have essentially two home run hitters (though we’ve seen that Bo Naylor may also be able to hit consistently for power), and even with Jose Ramirez and Josh Naylor doing their part, most of the Guardians’ lineup is made to play for contact. The Guardians try to get on base, to move runners up, to get to the next person in the lineup. Sometimes, a home run may happen, but usually, the Guards rely on multiple base hits in a row to get the job done.
And that means that everyone in your lineup has to be a consistent hitter, or it won’t work. If you are designed to play small ball, the holes in your lineup will constantly get exposed. It’s not really Myles’ fault that he’s a stellar defensive player with perhaps a weaker bat on a team that really needs every bat to produce, but that’s the situation. And it is frustrating for everyone, fans and players alike, when it seems like the same person, over and over again, is the one striking out or popping up to end the rally before the team could come all the way back.
Another thing that compounds the problem is how Myles Straw has been utilized. Even exactly as he is, with his poor offensive numbers, the argument can be made that he can really help a team. There’s no doubt that what he can do in the field and on the bases can really change a game. Using Myles more as a pinch runner and a defensive replacement late in games might be something we see more of in 2024, and that would not necessarily be a bad move for Myles. It plays to his strengths. It was easy to get frustrated with Myles Straw during some key at bats last year when he didn’t come through, but one could also place that frustration with the coaches who perhaps shouldn’t have been allowing him to hit in those situations in the first place. Using Myles in a different role might help him and the team, and might help all of us appreciate what he has to offer a little bit more.
I’ve noted that this is particularly an outfield problem, but maybe it makes more sense to say that it’s an outfielder problem. On the infield, there both corners (Jose and Josh Naylor) are threats to hit home runs. In the outfield, though, Steven Kwan in left is not a power hitter. He has made some adjustments to his swing so that he has been able to hit for a little more power, but I think it’s safe to say he will never be a real home run threat. And Will Brennan, who usually played right field, is the same kind of scrappy, put the ball in play and find out what happens type of hitter that Kwan and most of the rest of the lineup is. And even if Myles figures it out and can hit consistently, the player who has hit exactly one home run in the last two seasons is not going to provide any power either.
The Guardians lineup needs more power if it’s going to be successful. Last year proved that there were too many holes in the lineup and not enough ways to change a game with one swing. That power has to come from somewhere and it’s most likely got to be an outfield spot. For some, that might mean getting rid of Myles Straw completely to find an outfielder who can hit for power. One possible move would be to put Will Brennan in center and make a move this off-season for a right fielder who can bash, if someone like that exists and is available. If that’s what happens, Myles could be a fourth outfielder and play late in games as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Or, they could trade Myles and he could be out of the picture completely, though that’s obviously not my favorite possibility. A trade would mean that the Guardians have determined his weak bat isn’t worth his gold glove caliber defense in center, at least in Cleveland with the way the roster currently is. Another team that already has a more powerful lineup might love to have that elite defense in their back pocket. Of course, the Guards could also opt to change nothing, and leave Myles as their starting center fielder, though I can’t imagine a lot of people being happy about that decision.
With everything up in the air while the Guardians await a new manager, it’s nearly impossible to guess what they’re going to do. The outfield remains one of the biggest question marks surrounding the team as they prepare for next year. I believe that Myles really can be an important asset to the Guardians if he’s utilized properly and they do manage to find a way to add some pop to their lineup. Hopefully, I can keep loving and respecting Myles Straw in 2024.