Pittsburgh Pirates: Biggest Offensive Issue with Ke’Bryan Hayes

PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 24, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Ke'Bryan Hayes #13 of the Pittsburgh Pirates in action against the Philadelphia Phillies during a game at Citizens Bank Park on September 24, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /
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Pittsburgh Pirates’ third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has struggled this year, and this is the source of his offensive troubles.

Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes has not done much with the bat this season. He’s batting just. 254/.323/.358, leading to a .304 wOBA and 94 wRC+. That’s barely passable production, given he’s so valuable with the glove, but still highly dissapointing. But there’s so much more Hayes can do with the bat that he’s yet to unlock and it can all be traced back to one issue in his game.

Hayes is currently in the top 92nd percentile of hard-hit rate and exit velocity. He hits the ball harder than MVP candidates like Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt. He also has pretty solid plate discipline. He doesn’t strike out a ton, clocking in with a 21.4% strikeout rate and 9% walk rate. Those are both above average. Hayes is also in the 72nd and 73rd percentile of chase and whiff rates. Hayes’s 0.42 walk-to-strikeout ratio is also above the league average rate of .37.

When you look at numbers like exit velocity, hard-hit rate, chase rate, whiff rate, walk rate, and strikeout rate, there’s a striking resemblance to 2019 Matt Chapman. Chapman ripped the cover off the ball in 2019, having a 92.7 MPH exit velocity and 49% hard-hit rate, which is almost identical to Hayes’ 91.7 MPH exit velocity and 48.2% hard-hit rate. He also only had a 21.9% strikeout rate and 10.9% walk rate. Again, very similar remarks to Hayes. 2019 Chapman’s chase and whiff rates? 22.7% and 23.7%, respectively. Hayes’s current chase and whiff rate? 25.5% and 20.4%.

But unless Hayes goes on a Barry Bonds-like tear and hits a dozen more home runs once he comes off the injured list, Hayes will be the first player in the Statcast Era (since 2015) to be in the top 90th or higher percentile in both exit velocity and hard-hit rate and fail to hit 20 or more home runs in 120 or more games.

Currently, the only other players with an exit velocity of at least 92 MPH and a hard hit rate of 48%+ include the following: Yordan Alvarez, Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Matt Chapman, Teoscar Hernandez, Austin Riley, Giancarlo Stanton, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Jose Abreu, Matt Olson, Tommy Pham, Byron Buxton, Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, and Rafael Devers. Hayes would be the only player among those 15 with an isolated slugging percentage below .150. He and Pham are the only two with an ISO below .220. Hayes is also the only qualified player this season to have a sub-100 wRC+ and have an exit velocity of 90 MPH or greater.

If Hayes has that insane power potential, why is he not hitting more? Well, it’s pretty simple. His launch angle is 4.7 degrees, which has led to a ground ball rate of 52.2%. No player is ever going to hit for power when over half of their batted balls are ground balls.

Let’s go back to 2019 Matt Chapman again. He had a 16.4-degree launch angle. That led to him having just a 41.5% ground ball rate and 43.1% flyball rate. Chapman blasted 36 dingers that season while having a .251 isolated slugging percentage, both of which ranked top 10 in his position.

Hayes doesn’t have pull-side power because of the lack of elevation in his swing. He only pulls the ball 29.4% of the time. He mostly hits it up the middle with a 40.1% middle-field rate. That’s not to say go fully Joey Gallo, completley sell out for power and pull the ball 60% of the time, but if he were to have a 40% pull rate and 10-degree launch angle while keeping the same hard hit rate and exit velocity, he would have almost very similar batted ball numbers to Seattle Mariners’ rookie star Julio Rodriguez. Rodríguez has a 41% pull rate, 92.1 MPH exit velocity, 50% hard hit rate, and 10.2-degree launch angle.

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It’s a real shame how Hayes is performing. He has the potential to be a 30+ home run hitter. The ball jumps off his bat, and he rips the cover off of it. It also helps that he doesn’t strike out very often and draws a healthy amount of walks. There’s real potential for a .270/.360/.500 hitter here; however, until he starts elevating the ball, that power is never going to come around.

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