Straw looks to boost elite defense, speed

Gold Glove-winning center fielder strives to adapt offensive approach

February 24th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Guardians center fielder Myles Straw isn’t exactly a metrics guy, but he knows his value. The reigning American League Gold Glove winner is coming off one of the best defensive seasons in club history, yet he’s already putting in the work during camp to make sure 2023 can be something of a repeat performance -- if not even better.

“I take my pride in defense,” Straw said. “Every day I go out there and I give 100 percent on defense. It translates to the games. When I’m out there, I feel like I’m the best defensive player and I want to leave it that way.”

Even in a crowded AL center-field class that includes defensive maestros Michael A. Taylor (with KC in 2022, now with Minnesota) and Byron Buxton (Twins), Straw managed to stand out last year, covering wide swaths of ground at both Progressive Field and across the league.

Whether one approaches Straw’s 2022 defensive campaign from the traditional methods of measuring defensive efficiency or the new-age analytical approach, there’s a bit of something for everyone: The 28-year-old led all Major League outfielders with 371 putouts and was second with 12 assists, logging a .992 fielding percentage; he also ranked first in ultimate zone rating (13.2) and sixth in defensive runs saved (17).

Straw is entering his first camp with relative positional security, having inked a five-year, $25 million contract extension (with team options for 2027 and '28) in April. While soreness in his right knee will keep him down from the Guardians’ Cactus League opener Saturday, the center fielder has his vision firmly on being out in center on a daily basis once the standings count.

When the PitchCom device was introduced last season to speed up pitcher/catcher communication and simplify the pitch-calling process, three additional fielders (usually middle infielders and center fielders) were given the option to wear the device, as well. Straw opted against it, racking up his impressive defensive campaign without knowing what was coming, instead letting his natural agility take over.

Straw, who wore a device during workouts Friday that measured his sprint speed, agility and reaction time, is ready to impact the game without his mitt on as well.

Once on the move out of the batter’s box, Straw has shown flashes of being a top-tier contributor with his legs. His 29.3 feet per second sprint speed ranked him in the 94th percentile across the league, while he finished eighth in the Majors in bolts (48) -- which includes any run above 30 feet per second -- and 10th in competitive runs (247) last year, a list led by Amed Rosario, with Steven Kwan ranking fifth.

The new rules coming to the Majors this season include a limit on pickoff attempts and disengagements by the pitcher. Once a pitcher has used his allotment of throws to a runner-occupied base, he risks a balk if he's unsuccessful in nabbing a baserunner -- a facet that should work in the favor of speedy runners already inclined to push the tempo. While manager Terry Francona isn’t interested in revealing any in-game strategy, he said that first-base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. will have a large role in determining where and when the Guardians will be looking to attempt a steal.

“I’m always looking to go regardless of rules or no rules,” Straw said. “I think I’m going to stick to the plan, stay aggressive. We've got guys that run in this lineup, guys that slug now -- it’ll be good. There’s going to be a lot of breaking balls, good time to run.”

Straw was successful on 21 of his 22 steal attempts last season, tying him with Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto for the highest stolen-base percentage (95.5 percent) in the Majors among players with at least 14 steals.

Even with the considerable value that Straw provides with his glove and legs, he’s aware of the struggles he endured offensively last season. The lone qualified batter to not hit a home run in 2022, Straw slashed .221/.291/.273 and posted a 65 OPS+. With that, he has taken seriously his desire to adapt and contribute with his bat as well.

“Let it [rip] early and try not to get deep into counts,” Straw said of his early plan of attack. “Coming into spring, I’m going to look to be aggressive and go from there.”

Last year, Straw swung at just 57.9 percent of pitches that landed in the strike zone, nine points below the league average rate. His first-pitch swing percentage dipped to 22.8, also far below league average (29.5 percent).

With the caveat that plans -- and scouting reports -- can change, a more aggressive approach from Straw could serve to boost the outfielder’s offensive profile, further lengthening an already potentially potent lineup and enhancing his burgeoning all-around value.