BOSTON -- The Astros knew all along that they’d likely lose George Springer in free agency last offseason. What they perhaps didn’t know was that their center-field situation wouldn’t be a total overhaul.
Sure, there was an envisioned drop-off replacing a three-time American League All-Star with 30-plus-homer production. But Jake Meyers and Chas McCormick -- neither of whom had big league experience before this season -- have held their own on this post-Springer roster, one that also had key contributions from Myles Straw before Houston dealt him for bullpen reinforcements ahead of the Trade Deadline.
Meyers, who played in 49 regular-season games, and McCormick, who played in 108, accounted for a combined 3.0 WAR, per FanGraphs, while producing a collective slash line of .258/.330/.440 (.769 OPS). Overall, Astros center fielders accounted for the second-most WAR in baseball this season, behind only St. Louis.
Above all, Meyers and McCormick play outstanding defense, a component that is all the more critical in the postseason -- especially in the quirky outfield venues that are hosting this AL Championship Series.
On that note, here’s a breakdown of what they bring to the Astros’ roster:
McCormick ranked 14th among all players, including infielders, with plus-12 Outs Above Average, a range-based metric of skill that shows how many outs a player has saved, as compiled by Statcast. Meyers, who played in far fewer games, was worth plus-5. Straw was also a defensive specialist, ranking 10th this season at plus-13. And in his last full season with Houston in 2019, Springer was worth plus-8.
McCormick has already put that defense on display with a big catch in Game 2 that gave Kiké Hernández a taste of his own medicine, racing in 67 feet in just 4 seconds to convert a play that had just a 30 percent catch probability. In the long run, it didn’t factor in much, because Luis Garcia wound up loading the bases and surrendering a grand slam to J.D. Martinez in Houston's 9-5 loss. But that play limited the damage.
As this series shifts to Fenway Park, where the Green Monster looms in left field, the Astros are already cognizant that more extended preparation might be necessary, even though the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park play similarly.
“There are some parks where it's hard to see or the wind takes it,” McCormick said. “You don't get many weird bounces off the wall, either. It's a pretty flat wall all around. Obviously, in Fenway, I'm going to be doing some early work seeing balls off the wall, because that's a little different.”
Therein lies one of many components that will factor into playing time. But the most prominent are their righty-lefty splits at the plate.
Where and when to platoon
McCormick started the first two games of the ALCS, though a big part of that was related to Meyers’ left shoulder, which he hurt when he collided into the center-field wall during Game 4 of the AL Division Series against the White Sox. Meyers was healthy enough to be included on the ALCS roster, so the Astros will certainly use him, but they might do so more cautiously.
Both right-handed hitters are naturally better against lefties, though Meyers’ splits are more pronounced, with an .899 OPS against southpaws and a .676 mark vs. righties. McCormick’s are .830 and .742, respectively.
Boston announced Sunday that Eduardo Rodríguez, who manager Alex Cora was able to spell for the games in Houston, will get the nod, meaning Meyers might see action if he is indeed feeling healthy enough.
Neither has to be ‘the’ guy
The Astros got here, above all, thanks to their loaded lineup, meaning there isn’t a major onus on Meyers or McCormick to be a significant run producer. Houston's No. 8 spot comes with less leverage, but also the opportunity to get on base as speedsters for Jose Altuve and the top of the order.
Such was the case in a nail-biting 5-4 win in Game 1, when Altuve’s two-run homer helped Houston rally. McCormick was the runner on first base for that game-tying blast, reaching on a single in the sixth inning. Altuve let McCormick know that his contribution in that moment was critical.
“I hit the homer, but if he doesn't get on base, it's a different game,” Altuve said. “He made some good plays in center field, too. I love him, and I love every outfielder we have because they play the way they should play.”
It might not be Houston’s most valuable position on the field. But the Meyers-McCormick package -- from the elite speed and defense to finding ways to get on base, better positioning the big bats around them -- is critical to the Astros’ ambitions in this ALCS.