Pittsburgh Pirates: Better Offense on Horizon for Ke’Bryan Hayes

Apr 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run against the Washington Nationals during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 16, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes (13) celebrates in the dugout after scoring a run against the Washington Nationals during the fifth inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Although Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has fallen into a slump, there are better things on the horizon for the talented youngster.

Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes got off to a hot start to 2022. Through May 15th, he was batting .301/.398/.381 with a .350 wOBA and 125 wRC+. He was the 8th best hitting third baseman per wRC+ and, with his elite defense, combined with his well above average bat, was the 5th most valuable third baseman per fWAR.

However, since Mid-May, Hayes has fallen into a significant slump. He’s hit just .222/.274/.346 with a .274 wOBA and 74 wRC+. Heck, throughout the last month, he’s had just a 57 wRC+. That’s 68% worse production at the plate compared to the first month-and-a-half of 2022. But things could be looking up for Hayes as the season goes on.

Despite poor results, Hayes is still demolishing the baseball. His average exit velocity comes out to 90.7 MPH, while his hard-hit rate is 49.5%. Overall this year, he has a 91.6 average exit velocity and 49.3% hard-hit rate, and both are in the 88th and 90th percentile, respectively. Of the 32 batters with a 91.5+ MPH exit velocity and 45%+ hard-hit rate, he’s just one of five players with a sub-100 wRC+.

It’s not as if Hayes is super swing-happy right now. He’s in the top 73rd percentiles of whiff rate and chase rate, and he’s also in the 62nd percentile of walk rate. His line-drive rate comes in at 28.4%, per Baseball Savant. Overall, his batted ball numbers are very similar to his 2020 numbers, when he had a 195 wRC+ (albeit in a small sample size of just 95 plate appearances). Baseball Savant compares his current batted ball numbers to Tommy Edman and Gavin Lux from this year, both of which have a wRC+ greater than 110 as of writing this, and David Peralta, Joey Wendel, and Edmundo Sosa from last year. Among those players, Peralta was the only sub-100 wRC+ comparison.

The expected stats reflect that Hayes could be a lot better. His expected batting line comes out to .277/.351/.437 with a .347 wOBA. Those numbers more closely resemble what Phillies’ middle infielder Jean Segura did last season (.290/.348/.436, .338 wOBA, 109 wRC+) or what Blue Jay outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is doing this season (.292/.349/.431, .341 wOBA, 121 wRC+).

It’s unheard of to see a guy with Hayes’s raw power with so little game power, at least so far. As we looked at earlier in the season, every player in the Statcast era (so since 2015, but excluding 2020) to play an entire season with a hard-hit rate and exit velocity above the 90th percentile has hit at least 21 home runs. Hayes would be the first guy to have this great of hard-hit/exit velo numbers and not reach the 20-homer benchmark.

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Still, he’s plenty powerful and has the underlying numbers to support better play. It took until June for Bryan Reynolds to get things started, and now he’s been one of baseball’s better hitters since then (ranks 22nd in wRC+, 13th in OPS, and 17th in wOBA since June 1st). His hard-hit and exit velo numbers are similar to Hayes, having a 90.9 MPH exit velo and 45.1% hard-hit rate throughout this hot streak. Slumps happen, but there are better things on the horizon for Ke’Bryan Hayes.