Pirates Prospects Daily: Ke’Bryan Hayes and Maximizing Hard Contact

Ke’Bryan Hayes wrapped up his second full season in the majors, and it’s been an eventful run for the third baseman. He has come as advertised on the defensive side of things, finishing as the runner up for the 2022 NL Gold Glove award at third base.

The former first round pick also signed what is the largest contract in franchise history, inking an eight year, $70 million extension before the start of the season.

He also missed time with an injury for the second straight year. At the plate, he struggled hitting for a lot of power.

Hayes was never a big time hitter in the minors, only reaching double digits in home runs once, back in 2019 while with the Indianapolis Indians.

Not looking at his one-month debut back during the 2020 season, Hayes has just 13 home runs over the last two seasons, with a wRC+ of 88.

Is this the player we are going to see the rest of his time in Pittsburgh?

Hayes is a fascinating player to look at from an analytical point of view. For someone that hasn’t put up the actual power numbers, he makes up very solid contact with the ball. Of the 252 qualified hitters on Baseball Savant, Hayes hit the 51st most batted balls 95 mph or faster. 

When going through all the little numbers and metrics of how he is hitting the ball, there is actually a lot to like, and some improvements he made from 2021 to this past season. His walk rate went up, he doesn’t chase much, and is consistently hitting the ball harder (increase in hard hit percentage and average exit velocity).

It’s been his unusually low launch angle that seems to be making the difference. Hayes is hitting the ball hard, but it doesn’t get off the ground high enough to do the kind of damage needed for extra bases.

While hitting the ball on the ground has its advantages, it is less ideal for a player hitting the ball as hard as Hayes has been.

A lot of the value the Pirates are going to get out of Hayes is going to be from his world class glove, and he could emerge as a franchise player if he can continue to creep towards league average hitting wise.

It looks like everything is there tool wise for Hayes to do just that, and he’s trending in the right direction. If he can solve that final piece at the plate, it would go a long ways in helping the current build progress in the right direction.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**In this week’s First Pitch, I looked at the anger that has been building up over the years around the Pirates, and whether the last 30 years are indicative of where the Pirates are right now.

**Jesus Castillo and Jase Bowen led their Australia team to victory. John Dreker has the latest Pirates winter league updates.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at how the Pirates build might be progressing after the trade for Connor Joe.

Song of the Day

We’ll be back in the high life againAll the eyes that watched us once
Will smile and take us inAnd we’ll drink and dance with one hand freeAnd have the world so easily
And oh we’ll be a sight to seeBack in the high life again

Pirates Prospects Weekly

I’m using First Pitch to write longer form articles that can explore the nuance of bigger subjects. The article below is a long one, but as you can see by the title, I was blending a lot of different subjects together. I appreciate everyone who read and joined in on the discussion.

First Pitch: Pittsburgh, The Pirates, Major League Baseball, and Misery

We’ll have our latest article drop on Tuesday.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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tventimiglio

Considering he had a wrist injury in 2021 and a back problem in 22 I’d sy the hard hit stats are even more promising. I’d venture to guess that he wasnt able to take swings with the proper posture and motion that he would like.

joesolo6181

Can Hayes improve is launch angle to hit for more power is the 30 home run question. Not sure what it will take for him to achieve it but so far it has not happened, so why think it will change?

NMR

Failure is often the catalyst needed to accept that change is necessary.

Justin Turner, the poster child for swing changers, was a 93 wRC+ hitter over his first four seasons and 900+ PA before he accepted that he needed to improve by changing the way he always swung the bat.

Kebryan Hayes has been an 88 wRC+ hitter over his first two full seasons, also 900+ PA.

If he truly is a hard worker and committed to his craft, then the writing is on the wall.

timbre21

I know this is not totally related to this article, however, I believe that “IF” the pirates had signed Brandon Drury instead of Connor. Joe, we could have a little more excitement and commitment from upper management
Not sure that. Drury could play in some of the positions that Joe will but definitely an upgrade, yes more money..
Oh well. We seem to never get what we need in regards to upgrades
We settle for anyone that can hit below 230

Danatural08

Hayes is really a fascinating hitter like mentioned. He showed so much power during that initial callup that everyone correctly said was not sustainable. Hand/wrist injury issues from 21 made the lack of power understandable. Then last year the power #’s didn’t come back.

Switching mechanics &/or approach is a tricky thing for a hitter bc you just don’t have much time to do any thinking in the box. I would hope that it happens naturally with more experience than he tries to force it.

My lineup card would actually have Hayes batting 6th or 7th unless he really forces his hand.

Bae
Cruz
Reynolds
Santana
Choi
Joe
Hayes
Suwinski
Hedges

NMR

Holy smokes that camera angle in the Burrows video.

skliesen

Hayes obviously needs to modify his swing to get some lift. The ability of him being able to make the necessary adjustments to do this without dramatically increasing his SO % and pop up rate will determine whether he is a 3 WAR player or 5+ WAR player next season.

I’m betting on him being one of three players who are 5 WAR players next season. Joining Cruz and Reynolds as 3 All-Star caliber players for Pirates in 2023.

b mcferren

should Hayes bat before or after Hedges on the lineup?

leefieux

As low as possible, imo.

skliesen

We all know you’re a Hayes hater, Foo. Just be prepared to eat crow next year!

leefieux

Works for me! 🙂 🙂

Zack

With you on that! Him in the top of the lineup is more a reflection on how bad the lineup was than on him.

Zack

With how intense he seems to be in becoming a better ball player (even dating back to high school), I wouldn’t put this evolution past him. Hopefully 2023 is the year we see his bat take a step forward.

bradlej31

He had a pretty average to disappointing year, and still had 4 fWAR

leefieux

Mostly defense?

Zack

Yeah, fangraphs had him at -6.8 defense and 16.7 offense. Came out to 3.0 war.

Steamer does project 106 wRC+ in 2023 though. Probably based on the hard contact. His .307 babip was below career of .324 so far. Steamer projects .315 next year.

leefieux

.290-.300 is league average BABIP. So, he is hitting ABOVE League Average? Not promising for the future.

Zack

I don’t know so this is just an assumption, but I’d guess babip is higher the harder you hit the ball. Maybe .315 is on par with his hard contact rate?

skliesen

BABIP will be improved across the league next season due to new defensive alignment restrictions.

NMR

Why would we expect it to improve if it did not drop in the first place?

skliesen

Science and faith. Mainly faith.

leefieux

No, it has always been that way, even before shifting.

timbre21

I hope they have different baseballs and the ones they use last year

tmcgowan

We aren’t the Yankees….</s>

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