Astros outfielder Chas McCormick was one of the more endearing baseball stories in 2021. That is not an easy feat considering he played for a team that has been as widely disliked as the Houston Astros the past couple of years (primarily due to their sign-stealing scandal).
A 21st round pick by the Astros in the 2017 MLB Draft out of Millersville University of Pennsylvania (an NCAA Division II school), McCormick wasn’t exactly a “heralded” prospect in the Houston system. The highest McCormick ever ranked in the Astros system, according to Baseball America, was 13th, and that came last season.
Even in his scouting report, Baseball America was “modest” in their outlook of McCormick at the Major League level, as evidenced in this snippet below:
There isn’t much projection left with McCormick, whom some scouts see as a reserve outfielder. There’s a chance he can be an everyday player who chips in with his on-base skills and glove.
No. 13: Chas McCormick; 2021 Scouting Report; Baseball America
Despite the low expectations, and playing on an Astros team looking to compete for an American League pennant and World Series title, McCormick ended up being a huge contributor to both the Astros as well as fantasy managers who most likely swiped him off the waiver wire.
In his MLB debut, the 26-year-old outfielder posted a triple slash of .257/.319/.447 and added 14 home runs, scoring 47 runs in 108 games and 320 plate appearances.
According to Fangraphs, McCormick posted a 109 wRC+ and was 3.3 Offensive runs above average for the season. In fact, of centerfielders who accumulated 300 or more plate appearances in 2021, McCormick actually ranked 14th of that group in wRC+.
And yet, in upcoming fantasy drafts, McCormick lags behind those three considerably so. That discrepancy is fully evident in their respective ADPs, which are listed in the table below which contains NFBC, Fantrax, and consensus ADP data.
(All ADP information comes from Fantasy Pros):
Now, is that to say McCormick should be ranked as highly as Grisham, Baddoo, and Verdugo in upcoming fantasy drafts?
Of course not. Grisham, Baddoo, and Verdugo were all more polished and heralded prospects when they were in the Minor Leagues, unlike McCormick.
However, it seems like many fantasy managers may be overlooking McCormick’s potential, especially when looking for production at the end of drafts. McCormick is certainly worth prioritizing in the late rounds of deep leagues or draft-and-hold formats.
And if he makes a few adjustments in his approach at the plate in year two…
Well, it’s not out of the question to think that he could greatly outperform that low consensus ADP in 2022.
McCormick’s Power Surge in 2021
While McCormick showcased some solid defensive and speed tools in the Minors early in his career, his power tool suddenly matured in 2019, especially once he made the jump to Triple-A.
After never hitting more than four home runs at a level since debuting professionally in 2017, McCormick hit 10 home runs and posted an isolated slugging (ISO) of .204 with Round Rock (he had never produced an ISO over .137 prior to 2019).
Thus, it made sense that there was some skepticism about McCormick’s power potential when he debuted with the Astros in 2021.
And yet, McCormick surpassed expectations in this department by a considerable margin.
Not only did McCormick generate an ISO of .190 last year with the Astros, but he also produced a barrel rate of 10.2 percent, a hard-hit rate of 49.2 percent, and an HR/FB rate of 17.7 percent. For perspective, he never had an HR/FB rate in the double digits in the Minors, sans his 2019 Round Rock campaign.
When looking at his zone data from Baseball Savant, McCormick thrived on pitches up in the middle of the zone as well as up and away last season.
Here’s a look at his barrels per balls-in-play zone chart from 2021. Notice how McCormick succeeded in barreling pitches up in the zone, whether it was in the middle or outside edge of the strike zone.
McCormick, according to batted ball data, was above the league average when it came to hitting the ball to the opposite field, as he went oppo on batted balls 26.7 percent of the time in 2021 (the league average is 25.7 percent). Furthermore, not only was McCormick able to go to the opposite field with regularity, but he was able to do so productively, as evidenced by his barrels/BIP chart above.
In fact, here’s a look at McCormick demonstrating that opposite-field power stroke against Cleveland’s Cal Quantrill in July game at Progressive Field:
In addition to the promising barrel and hard-hit rate metrics, McCormick also proved adept at putting the ball in the air on a consistent basis the past couple of seasons.
Since 2019, McCormick has regularly produced a GB/FB (groundball/flyball) ratio under one (which is good) at both the Major as well as Minor League level. In his MLB debut, his GB/FB ratio was 0.85, highlighted by a flyball rate of 42.2 percent.
In addition, his average launch angle in 2021 was 18.6 degrees, 6.6 degrees higher than the league average launch angle. What made his above-average launch angle even more impressive was that he became more adept at hitting the ball in the air as he got more at-bats at the Major League level.
This trend is on full display in his most recent launch angle breakdown chart from Baseball Savant. After his 140th batted ball, his launch angle spiked up and pretty much stayed in that high region for the remainder of the season:
McCormick may not have the profile of a traditional power-hitting outfielder. His glove and speed tools are more pronounced, though his speed tool didn’t necessarily materialize into stolen bases a year ago (four stolen bases on six attempts).
That being said, McCormick displayed some impressive power in his rookie season, and that shouldn’t be ignored by Astros fans or fantasy managers. His barrel and launch angle skills hint that his surface-level power numbers, such as home runs, could not just be sustainable next season, but perhaps even improve a bit, should things break right for him playing-time-wise in 2022.
And right now, he seems to be in good shape to be the Astros’ starting centerfielder on Opening Day, as evidenced from Roster Resource’s most recent Astros Depth Chart.
A Product of Minute Maid Park? (Not Quite)
According to Baseball Savant Park Factors, Houston’s home field of Minute Maid Park tends to be one of the more hitter-friendly confines in the league. Over the past three seasons, Minute Maid Park ranked 10th in HR factor and 12th in overall Park Factor. Thus, it would be easy to credit McCormick’s breakout last season due to his home-field advantage.
However, a deeper dive into his 2021 splits (via Fangraphs) show that McCormick actually didn’t benefit all that much from the Park Factors of Minute Maid Park.
Surprisingly, McCormick actually performed better AWAY from Minute Maid Park in nearly every category.
The only exceptions were Isolated Power (ISO) and BB/K ratio. However, he did strike out less on the road (and hit for higher average as well), and in terms of ISO, he still posted a better slugging percentage on the road than at home, so it wasn’t as if his power was sapped when he was away from Minute Maid.
An explanation for McCormick’s hitting aptitude away from home could be due to his oppo-friendly batted ball approach.
Minute Maid Park benefits right-handed pull hitters, especially with a left-field porch that is only 315 feet away. However, McCormick hit the ball all over the field a year ago, and that is demonstrated in his spray chart below:
Here’s an example of McCormick’s opposite-field hitting approach benefiting him at Globe Life Field in May against the Rangers, as he hits an oppo bomb off of Texas pitcher (and former Astros draft pick) Jordan Lyles:
McCormick was still productive at home, and his 105 wRC+ at Minute Maid parks demonstrates that. However, his stellar numbers on the road should give Astros fans and potential fantasy managers that McCormick can sustain his performance from a year ago and that he isn’t just benefitting from the hitter-friendly environment of his home park.
How Does He Stack Against Similar Outfielders?
I wanted to see where McCormick fared against other outfielders who were ranked similarly. Based on Fantasy Pros aggregate rankings, Baltimore’s Jorge Mateo (145th) and Cleveland’s Bradley Zimmer (147th) were outfielders who most likely would be drafted around the same area as McCormick.
The table below shows how they compared to one another last season in some standard stat categories that would be common in most fantasy leagues.
Obviously, McCormick lagged last season in stolen bases in comparison to Zimmer and Mateo. That being said, when it comes to average and power, McCormick appears to be a more promising outfield option for fantasy managers.
McCormick also was much better than both Zimmer and Mateo in terms of run production (runs and RBI) last season, and that should continue to be the case in 2022. The Houston lineup will be worlds better than either Cleveland or Baltimore’s. While the Astros most likely will lose Carlos Correa in free agency, this still is an Astros lineup that will be one of the American League’s best next season, and that will put McCormick in a position to score a lot of runs as well as drive in his fair share.
However, there was an interesting bit in the Statcast metrics that could be cause for concern for McCormick in 2022, and that could be found in McCormick’s Max Exit Velocity and how it compared to Zimmer and Mateo.
McCormick was not just behind both Mateo and Zimmer in Max Exit Velocity, but he also was behind Zimmer in expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Of course, expected stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but the max EV numbers could be a bit of a red flag, especially since it only ranked in the 54 percentile last year, according to Savant.
Just as Zimmer could see a boost in production, should he make an adjustment with his launch angle, the inverse could be true for McCormick if his launch angle declines. What happens if McCormick hits more groundballs next season? What happens if he goes through a BABIP-fueled sophomore slump?
It isn’t out of the question to think that if those things happen, his power metrics won’t be much better than Zimmer or Mateo. That pretty much kills his value in most fantasy leagues, especially since he doesn’t have the stolen base ability of the other two.
That being said, McCormick does possess sprint speed that ranked in the 89th percentile last season, according to Savant. Thus, the raw speed tool is there, it just needs to get utilized more by Astros manager Dusty Baker.
His low position in the batting order last year didn’t necessarily lend well to a lot of stolen base opportunities (201 of his 320 plate appearances last season were in the 7th or 8th spot in the batting order). However, he did get 53 plate appearances in the two-spot a year ago. Though he didn’t do great in that spot in the batting order (61 wRC+), he could get another opportunity, especially if he can start the year off well at the plate.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility to think that he could get at-bats in the spot against left-handed pitchers, especially since Michael Brantley is currently penciled in as the Astros’ No. 2 hitter on Roster Resource.
And should he get that opportunity in the batting order against lefties, he could see more stolen base opportunities, which could help close the gap between him and Zimmer and Mateo in that category in 2022.
Final Thoughts on McCormick
McCormick probably is not much of a draft option in standard 12-team leagues. However, he should absolutely be a target in 15-team deep leagues or AL-only formats.
At the very least, McCormick should be targeted as an early streaming option in 2022, since it is probably likely that he will go undrafted in most leagues. Currently, he is owned in only two percent of Yahoo leagues and one percent of ESPN leagues, according to Fantasy Pros. He hits with enough power to have value, even if he may only be a temporary outfield option for fantasy managers.
For deep league or Draft-and-Hold league players, McCormick though could be a late-round pickup who could produce a ton of value, especially if things break right for him in his second MLB season.
His swing and batted ball skills are vastly better than what people see at the surface level, and it is possible that McCormick could be a player who could produce 15-20 homers and 8-12 stolen bases in a season, should he get the opportunity to play every day in Houston in 2022. That would be a huge value for a late-round or waiver wire pickup.
Granted, there still are some areas of McCormick’s game that fantasy managers should pay attention to next season. And that primary area mostly centers on his propensity to “swing and miss” often at the plate.
McCormick struck out 32.5 percent of the time a year ago, and his contact rate was also low at 65.9 percent, according to Fangraphs. Furthermore, according to his K rate zone chart from a year ago, there were a lot of areas around the strike zone where pitchers took advantage of McCormick in 2021.
McCormick does have a full season of at-bats under his belt. However, it will be hard for him to earn consistent plate appearances in Houston if his K rate continues to hover over 30 percent in 2022. The Astros are still in win-now mode, and will not have patience with such “swing and miss” issues, especially with options like Jose Siri on the bench, who has less power but possesses better contact skills.
There is plenty of risk with McCormick. However, he has made a lot of adjustments at the professional level, especially while in the Astros Minor League system.
It will be interesting if he will transition his habit of making adjustments to the Major League level, with the primary ones being improving his contact skills and stolen base ability in 2022.
Because if he does make those improvements in those areas of his game in this upcoming season, then he will be rostered in a lot more than just two percent of Yahoo and one percent of ESPN leagues at this time in 2023.
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)