On Elite Traits, and the Uniquely Ratable Myles Straw

Every major league baseball player is exceptionally good at every aspect of the game. Be it hitting, fielding, or whatever skill you might ascribe, they are all extremely capable. When we denounce Player X’s fielding ability or Player Y’s inability to hit a breaking ball, it can be easy to forget the skill it requires for them to be above the bottom five percent of major leaguers in that category. Thus, the importance of elite traits. Notice, “elite” was used intentionally, rather than “above average” or “plus”. Vastly different inferences are cached in this distinction.

When the Cleveland Guardians look to add a player, they target a semblance of elite traits. We have seen it play out with their acquisition of relievers with top of the line walk rates, starters with rarely paralleled command grades, and catchers with unrivaled defensive skills. At the 2021 trade deadline, the Guardians ventured down this path again by acquiring Myles Straw from the Houston Astros.

Run, Myles, run.

Straw can fly. At 29.3 feet per second, his peak sprint qualified in the 95th percentile of the 567 players that qualified. Yes, 31 people registered at least a hair quicker. On the bases, he was even more effective, as only 17 people had a quicker 90-foot split – in other words, Straw’s acceleration skills run even deeper than his raw speed output. Top shelf wheels lend themselves to elite abilities elsewhere, too.

Glove it, Myles.

His ability to field his position falls somewhere around the 96th percentile, according to Baseball Savant’s Outs Above Average data from 2021. Defensive metrics are messy in short intervals such as this, but it is a good baseline to pair with our eye test. We saw him repeatedly track down balls in the gap down the stretch in 2021. Straw also has a unique first step ability, indicated quite clearly because raw speed does not always translate to elite fielding capabilities.

Don’t forget the bat, Myles.

In Cleveland, we have grown accustomed to toolsy outfielders that are elite in wheels and glove attributes, though perhaps not to Straw’s degree. As we know, it quickly becomes apparent that those attributes are not necessarily enough in isolation to transcend replacement level. The most intriguing part of projecting Myles Straw resides with how his skill set meshes with his bat skills and plate approach.

Since the beginning of 2019, Straw has walked to the plate 862 times. That 800-plus plate appearance threshold establishes a baseline that we can use for comparison purposes against the 219 other major leaguers that registered that many trips to the dish. Straw’s 89.7 percent contact rate ranks fifth overall, amounting to the 97th percentile.

However, it’s not just being able to put bat to ball that is the delimiting factor – the ever-important plate discipline rears its head as a complementary skill set. By only offering at 22.4 percent of pitches outside the strike zone since 2019, Straw finds himself in the 93rd percentile of that attribute. Of the four players that featured a better contact rate than Straw (Luis Arraez, David Fletcher, Michael Brantley, and Joe Panik), none were able to lay off more pitches outside of the zone.

The double headed monster of elite bat control and elite plate discipline provides a firm baseline for his offensive output. Add in his basepath effectiveness courtesy of the elite 90 foot running splits and you have an extremely stable projection profile. It is not a profile that can easily boom, as Straw was in the bottom tenth percentile of exit velocity, but it is one that is uniquely ratable. The stability of Straw’s 10 percent walk rate and 90 percent contact rate is relatively impenetrable.

That impenetrability is displayed in the universal agreement of projection systems. Pick your poison: ZiPS, Steamer, THE BAT, or your favorite fantasy analyst’s excel book that has 46 tabs. All of them pinpoint Myles Straw to be in the 92 to 96 wRC+ range with a 19 percent strikeout rate and a 10 percent walk rate, an extremely rare cohesion of algorithms into one finely defined window.

Elite. An overused word when it comes to Myles Straw, but not an undeserved one. Rarely do professional athletes such clearly define themselves in as many facets of their craft. Straw figures to be a staple in the Guardians’ lineup for years to come because of the ratability of his bat, speed, and leather.

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