Pittsburgh Pirates’ third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has broken Statcast because of the oddity his 2022 season has brought to the table.
Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is off to a bizarre start to the 2022 season with the bat. Everything seems to align with his glove and base running, but his offense has been extraordinarily strange once you take a deep dive.
One of the biggest and most important revolutions in baseball history is the invention of Statcast. Statcast has tracked every batted ball, every player’s bolts out of the batter’s box, and every pitch since 2015, and Ke’Bryan Hayes’ 2022 season breaks Statcast.
Hayes has been far from a lousy hitter. The talented third baseman has hit for a .811 OPS, which is among the top 10 of third basemen. He is currently on pace to have one of the highest single-season doubles totals in franchise history. If he keeps up his current pace and stays healthy, he’ll finish with just under 50 two-baggers. Paul Waner set the franchise doubles record in 1932 with 62; however, only Freddy Sanchez, Nate McLouth, Andy VanSlyke, and Dave Parker have reached the 45-doubles milestone post-integration.
But Hayes is completely ripping the cover off the baseball. His average exit velocity is 93 MPH, which is in the top 93rd percentile. He also has a 49.5% hard-hit rate. Excluding the 2020 season and Miguel Cabrera’s 2015 campaign, since he only played 119 games, every player who has had a 93+ MPH exit velo has hit at least 21 home runs. The lowest full-season home run total comes from Tommy Pham in 2018 with 21.
Of the 31 instances where a player has had a 93+ MPH exit velocity in a season, a player has had a home run total of less than 30 just four times. That includes Pham’s 2018 season, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in 2018, who had 24 and 29 home runs, respectively, and Yoan Moncada in 2019 with 25 (again, excluding 2020 and Cabrera’s 2015 season). If you want to boil it down, even more, Pham is the only player to have less than 25 homers and a 93+ MPH exit velocity.
Right now, Hayes is among just eleven players with an exit velocity of 93 MPH or greater. How is he doing this? Sure it’s a small sample size, but he’s defying nearly seven years of baseball data. The answer is pretty simple; it’s the launch angle.
Hayes currently has a 5.7-degree launch angle, the 11th lowest in baseball. He easily has the best raw power from the sub-6 degree batters, leading them all in hard-hit rate and exit velocity by a fair margin. He only has a 7.6% barrel rate, which is how often he hits a ball 98+ MPH and in the 26 to 30-degree launch angle range. This is only in the 46th percentile, which is one of the reasons for his lack of power.
That isn’t to say that Hayes should change his approach, though. If the raw power is there, the game power will eventually come, especially considering he has a well above average strikeout, walk, and contact rate. I’d rather him hit 40 doubles and five home runs while batting .300+ and having a .400+ OBP than hit 20 home runs and 20 doubles and bat .260 with an OBP around .350. With guys like Oneil Cruz, Jack Suwinski, Nick Gonzales, Liover Peguero, Henry Davis, and many more coming through the system, a 40-double/.400+ OBP threat is the kind of guy you want as a table-setter.
However, that doesn’t take away from the impressive feat he’s accomplished. You’d figure a guy who has an average exit velo around 93 MPH and hard-hit rate approaching 50% would have at least one home run in over 100 plate appearances. But his approach of liners into the gap and ground balls down the line have led to a pretty odd accomplishment that has yet to be accomplished in the Statcast era.