3 bold predictions for the Pirates' 2024 season

I want to share some bold predictions about the Pittsburgh Pirates and their upcoming 2024 season.
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs
Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs / Michael Reaves/GettyImages
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Ke'Bryan Hayes finishes top five in MVP voting

Third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes had a breakout 2023 season. He batted .271/.309/.453 with a .324 wOBA, and 101 wRC+. Hayes hit nearly as many home runs in 2023 with 15 as he did in 2020-2022 when he hit 18. He also provided his typical elite defense at third base. This is the second season in a row he had over +20 defensive runs saved with +21. He also had +17 outs above average; the third straight season, he's racked up at least a dozen.

But from June through the end of the year, Hayes caught fire with the bat and didn't look back. Through his final 305 plate appearances of the season, he slashed .307/.334/.528 with a .363 wOBA and 127 wRC+. While Hayes had a solid 21.6 percent strikeout rate, he also rarely walked and had a 4.3 percent walk rate. But the improvements were significant. He had just a six percent barrel rate heading into June but hit for an 8.4 percent barrel rate after June. Hayes has always had great raw power and finished the season with a 92.2 MPH exit velocity. But he got much better at lifting the ball.

Hayes had a +2.9 fWAR throughout this stretch. In a full season where he appears in 150 games and has 650 plate appearances, he comes out to about +6.1 fWAR. Last season, six different players had +6.0 fWAR. All finished in the top five of MVP voting in their respective leagues, with Francisco Lindor being the only one who finished outside the top five.

I think it's a little too bold to go all the way and say that Hayes will win the NL MVP (of course, I wouldn't be opposed to that). But a six WAR player will typically finish among the top of MVP ballots. The improvements Hayes made last year are extremely encouraging. If he continues to hit anything like he did during the summer last season and keeps his elite defense up, he'll be one of the best third basemen in MLB, and possibly even the best in the National League.