With Straw dealt to Cleveland -- a move that came as a surprise, given his production and leadership -- McCormick, a rookie with 65 games under his belt, will now step into the role of Houston’s new captain of the outfield.
“I was actually really good friends with him, so it’s actually pretty sad,” McCormick said. “But at the same time, it gives me an opportunity. It gives me more playing time. Looking [forward] to the opportunity, and I believe I’m ready for that.”
In trading Straw, who provided the Astros with speed (17 steals) and defense (two Defensive Runs Saved), Houston is giving McCormick the vote of confidence as the team’s starting center fielder going forward.
The promotion is not without merit. Entering Saturday, McCormick has totaled 113 wRC+ and 1.0 fWAR. McCormick isn’t as aggressive on the bases as Straw, but he provides an already-stacked lineup some additional pop (10 home runs) along with being one of the league’s fastest players (93rd percentile in Sprint Speed). The big question for McCormick is how he’ll fare defensively.
McCormick came up through the Astros’ organization as more of a corner outfielder. In the Minors, McCormick did see some time in center (449 innings), but played most of his innings in left (703 2/3 innings) or right (1,114 innings). McCormick’s defensive metrics this season in the Majors, then, shouldn’t come as a surprise.
In 179 1/3 innings in left field, McCormick has three Defensive Runs Saved. In 126 innings in right field, McCormick also has three Defensive Runs Saved. Over the course of a full season, McCormick could very well contend at either corner spot for a Gold Glove Award.
Center field, however, is a different story. Entering Saturday, in 86 1/3 innings in center, McCormick is worth minus-1 Defensive Runs Saved with a minus-0.3 Ultimate Zone Rating. McCormick has the raw speed and instincts -- he's in the 96th percentile of Outfielder Jump, per Baseball Savant -- but as the team’s starting center fielder going forward, he’ll have to adapt and learn to fill the hole from Straw’s departure.
“In center field, it’s kind of hard to tell if they put a big swing on it. It could be [that] they did not hit it that well and it could die, or they put an OK swing on it and it jumps off the bat,” McCormick said. “It’s just hard in center field to tell where the line drive’s going to be either way, over your head or in front. Corners, you don’t really get that. When I’m over in left or right field, I can read it pretty well, whatever the swing may be.”
Greinke takes hacks
Zack Greinke is generally considered one of the best-hitting pitchers in baseball -- among those not named Shohei Ohtani, anyway. On Saturday at Oracle Park, Greinke was given the ultimate honor any pitcher can have, being slotted to hit eighth in the lineup, right above catcher Martín Maldonado.
“I took a page out of Tony La Russa’s book, because I never would’ve done that in the past,” manager Dusty Baker said.
Baker described Greinke as an “outstanding” hitter, outlining how he could potentially use the pitcher in hit-and-run situations with Kyle Tucker and McCormick batting in the sixth and seventh spots, respectively.
Houston’s skipper is also on board with Greinke using his speed. Greinke is currently sitting on nine career steals and has said previously that he wants to reach double figures. If the opportunity presents itself, Baker is willing to give Greinke the green light.
“I’m cool as long as he don’t hurt nothing,” Baker said.
Alas, Greinke's 10th steal will have to wait, as he went 0-for-2 at the plate in Houston's 8-6 loss.