Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke’Bryan Hayes Finding Success in Lead Off Spot


Since being moved to the lead off spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates lineup third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has been finding success at the plate

Entering the 2021 season expectation were sky high for Ke’Bryan Hayes. While the 2021 season has not gone as Hayes or the Pittsburgh Pirates had planned he is still playing at level that would put him on pace to be a 2.5 fWAR player through a full MLB season.

Things went sideways for Hayes in a hurry during the 2021 season when he injured his hand in the second game of the season which led to him missing over two months of action. As a result, Hayes has only played in 85 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.

Lingering issues from this hand injury may also be a reason why Hayes has not had the offensive season that he and the Pittsburgh Pirates had hoped for. On the season Hayes is hitting for just a .258/.325/.373 slash line to go with an isolated slugging (ISO) of .115 and a wRC+ of just 92.

While, overall, Hayes has struggled offensively this season, it has not been due to poor contact. His average exit velocity of 90.2 MPH is nearly 2 full MPH higher than the league average, while his 46.2% hard-hit rate is 10% better than league average.

Hayes is also putting together a strong finish to the season. Earlier this month manager Derek Shelton moved Hayes to the lead off spot in the Pirate lineup. This is a move that appears to have rejuvenated the bat of Hayes as he has done nothing but hit since moving to lead off.

As a lead off batter this season Hayes has hit for a .364/.389/.394 slash line to go with a 114 wRC+. While you would like to see Hayes hit for more power, he has just a single extra base hit (a double) in the lead off spot, it still appears to have helped to get the bat going again for Hayes.

Hayes has also continued to hit the ball hard in the lead off spot. Hayes has an average exit velocity out of the lead off spot of 90.2 MPH, the same as his average exit velocity for the rest of the season. His 42.3% hard-hit rate out of the lead off spot is also better than league average, as is his 23.1% line-drive rate.

Moving forward the Pirates should leave Hayes in the lead off spot. Not only has moving to the top of the lineup appeared to have gotten his bat going again it’s also a way to maximize the amount of at-bats Hayes gets the rest of the season. Getting Hayes as many ABs as possible, which will happen batting lead off, can help with his development as a MLB hitter and prepare him for, injury permitting, his first full MLB season in 2022.

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Hayes is always going to be an elite defender at third base. If fact, he has made a golden case this season to take home the National League Gold Glove Award at third base. While it likely will not happen, in all honesty Hayes should win the NL Gold Glove at third base this season.

Due to his defense all Hayes will ever have to be as a hitter to provide 3+ WAR value to a team is to be an average to slightly above average hitter. Last season, earlier this season, and now as the team’s lead off man, Hayes has flashed the ability to be a well above average hitter which could make him one of the most valuable players in the NL Central.