The 2015 Royals had a secret weapon in their World Series title run and the present-day Guardians have the same weapon in their arsenal.
Last year was a difficult year to evaluate the Myles Straw experience. After signing a five-year, $25 million extension (with two club options), Straw came flying hot off the runway, putting up a 125 wRC+ in April. He then proceeded to take a nosedive at the plate: 53 wRC+ in May, 22 wRC+ in June, 95 wRC+ in July but then all the way down to a -45 wRC+ in August. Finally, he righted the plane in September/October, putting up a 112 wRC+, but leaving plenty of questions about whether or not he has the hitting abilities to be an everyday player, having put up a 64 wRC+ from May to August and hitting only two home runs in 864 career plate appearances with Cleveland.
It’s not all bad news, of course. Straw put up a 97 wRC+ with Houston and Cleveland in 2021. He is in the 94th percentile for sprint speed and he has stolen 67 bases in his major league career while only getting caught 10 times. Of course, most importantly, Myles Straw is a defensive demi-god. Choose your metric, whichever you prefer, Straw had a season defensively in 2022 that was as excellent as his hitting was poor: 17 DRS, 13 OAA, 13.2 UZR. I could watch Myles Straw play center field 24 hours a day and find it as soul-stirring as any great piece of art. He earned a deserved gold glove for his 2022 performance in the Guardians’ outfield.
As I think about Straw and his assets and liabilities as a player, I am reminded of another player who was featured prominently for a division rival of the Guardians in the recent past. From 2012 to 2016, Jarrod Dyson put up 9.3 fWAR, 30.5 baserunning runs above average, and 45 DRS. During this time period, Dyson had an 87 wRC+ with a slashline of .264/.327/.355 (Myles Straw’s major league line is .247/.322/.313) and stole 158 bases while being caught 26 times. The Royals deployed Dyson often as a late-inning defensive replacement, a pinch-runner, as well as an outfielder who could give their regulars consistent rest. In those five years with the Royals, Dyson played in 62% of their games, was in the game for 45% of their innings, and averaged 47.3% of a 600 plate-appearance year over the five seasons.
I am here to postulate that the Jarrod Dyson plan may be the most efficient and productive use of Myles Straw, especially if the Cleveland Guardians believe in Will Brennan as a player, or if they believe Steven Kwan can play a solid center field (allowing Brennan or eventually George Valera to play left field). I am not discounting the idea that Straw may be able to acquire a little more power, or that an improved approach he showed in September of 2022 may increase his on-base percentage. But, it’s important to recognize that for his career of 408 major league games at the age of 28, it’s likely that his 81 wRC+ over that time period is fairly indicative of the type of offensive player he is. An 81 wRC+ is probably not an everyday player, even with otherworldly defense and very good baserunning.
It’s time for the Guardians to be open to the idea of shifting their focus on how they view Myles Straw. I think he deserves to get a chance to open the season to see if he can return to something like a league-average bat. But, at the same time, the plan should already be in place to move him to a super-sub role. In this role, he would still be an immensely valuable player who would make one or two starts a week in center field, but who should enter every game as a defensive replacement and/or pinch-runner. I would probably look to start him when Triston McKenzie is pitching as McKenzie’s non-strikeout outs tend to be fly balls hit hard and/or when Zach Plesac is pitching because Plesac has the lowest strikeout rate of the Guardians’ rotation.
When the game is coming down to the wire and the Guardians are slightly behind, Straw should enter for Josh Naylor, Josh Bell, or Mike Zunino if they get on base. He should be available to sub in for some 10th innings as the zombie runner at second. And if the Guardians have a lead or the game is tied in the seventh inning, he should almost always come in and play center field for the final three innings of every game.
Some are concerned about Straw’s contract and that the Guardians might feel obligated to play him full-time. If he can average around two wins a year as Dyson did for the (World Series-winning) Royals, $5 million per year is a tremendous value. I see no reason that he can’t do exactly that.
Guardians coaching staff and front office: If you want to understand how to suck the most value out of Straw, don’t forget to get out your Dyson tapes and take notes.