Third Base – Ke’Bryan Hayes
The truly deserving Gold Glover, Ke’Bryan Hayes, will look to capitalize on his raw power in 2023. Hayes has plenty of offensive upside. He has the raw power, the plate discipline, and overall ability. Now, he needs to raise his launch angle and lift the ball more.
Last year, Hayes batted a poor .244/.314/.345 with a .294 wOBA and 88 wRC+. Overall, he was one of the worst offensive third basemen in the league, ranking last in OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ among his qualified peers at his position. But it’s not all doom and gloom for Hayes.
He still had an above-average 8.6% walk rate and 21.6% strikeout rate. He was also in the top 75th percentile of whiff rate and top 63rd percentile of chase rate, meaning he’s not going up to the plate and swinging at everything thrown at him. Hayes also had an outstanding 91 MPH exit velocity (top 85th percentile) and a 46.8% hard-hit rate. Hayes was the only batter last season with a hard hit rate of at least 45% and exit velo of 91 MPH or greater, not to reach the 100 wRC+ plateau. He’s also the first batter to rank in the top 84th percentile or greater in an entire season not to hit 20 home runs.
Hayes struggles with his launch angle and lifting the ball off the bat. His 5.2-degree launch angle is an improvement from last year but still very low. This led to a barrel rate of just 2.7% (bottom 13th percentile). Barrel rate essentially differentiates hard contact from quality contact as it takes launch angle into consideration.
Now that’s not to say that Hayes needs to become Joey Gallo and go all upper-cut swing or bust, but even increasing his launch angle to the 6-8 degree range would do Hayes a whole lot of good. Alejandro Kirk, Nate Lowe, Yandy Diaz, Jose Abreu, both Willson and William Contreras, and Michael Harris II all had sub-par launch angles around this 6-8-degree range.
Of course, there’s no doubting his defensive ability. His +24 defensive runs saved not only led his position by a margin of five runs but also led all of Major League Baseball by a margin of two runs. With +18 outs above average, only Jonathan Schoop (+27) and Dansby Swanson (+20) were worth more outs than Hayes. The next closest, Nolan Arenado, had just +18 OAA.
Hayes needs to make a slight adjustment, but if he can do that, he might end up being one of the most prominent breakout candidates in 2023. Again, he doesn’t need to go full launch angle-happy to be productive. If he raises the ball a little more, you could see massive strides moving forward next season for the third baseman.