Pittsburgh Pirates: Two Players Who Need to Improve in 2023

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Yankees
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Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes

There is no denying what Ke'Bryan Hayes can do defensively. He is the best defensive third baseman in baseball. Gold Glove Awards be damned, defensive metrics will tell you that is the truth about Hayes. Hell, he might be the best defensive player in all of baseball regardless of position.

Offensively, however, Hayes has yet to recapture what he showed during his debut month of September 2020. Last season, he posted an 88 wRC+ and an 87 OPS+ in 560 PAs. In his MLB career, he owns a wRC+ and OPS+ of 97 in 1051 PAs. For reference, 100 is considered league avergae for both wRC+ and OPS+.

Even with his offensive struggles, Hayes was 4+ WAR player last season due to his defense. If he can become an even league average to slightly above league average hitter in 2023, you might be looking at a 6 WAR player and those are a rarity.

There is reason to believe Hayes can make those strides offensively. He has always hit the ball hard. His hard hit rate was in the 84th percentile of baseball last season while his average exit velocity was in the 85th percentile. For his career, he owns a 47.2% hard hit rate and an average exit velocity of 90.2 MPH. League average is 35.8% and 88.4 MPH.

The offensive issue for Hayes has been not getting enough lift on the ball. His career ground ball rate of 52.0% is too high. If Hayes can lift the ball more, improving his launch angle and hitting more fly balls in 2023, then he should make the offensive strides that the franchise needs from him.