1-1-22 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter
Somewhere during 2021, Ke’Bryan Hayes went from a nailed on superstar to a guy few are even discussing when talking about 2022.
If you just review his timeline it makes total sense. He debuted in a 2020 and hit like Ted Williams, started out the 2021 season with a bomb confirming almost everyone’s Rookie of the Year predictions, then fell to a seemingly benign injury that turned out to be a lingering issue even after his return to the lineup.
He never missed a step with the glove, but he certainly never recaptured the form at the plate he displayed in 2020.
Blame the injury if you like, credit the league for pushing back against a rookie who embarrassed almost every pitcher he faced for his first 5 weeks as a MLB player. Some of us warned that he was exceeding his projections in 2020, but even we can’t decipher how much of his 2021 was injury driven vs oil finding it’s level.
I like to look at Ke’Bryan’s 2020 and 2021 together, if you add them all together you start to get a pretty well rounded picture of what his “rookie” season really looked like.
Combined he’s had 447 at bats, 125 hits, 11 homeruns with a .280 average. Man, you’d take that wouldn’t you? That all adds up combined with his glove to a 4.2 WAR player, a more than capable starter in this league.
If we all hadn’t seen that concentrated 2020 performance that drew valid comparisons to some of the greatest players to ever play the game, perhaps we’d even appreciate it.
While Hayes had a definitive drop off after returning from injury, he’s also put together a stat line that any rookie should be proud of. He’s certainly not done anything to shake the confidence of the team or fans that he’s a bust. Yet he’s rarely mentioned as more than a given he’ll be at third base, and a tentative hope he “figures it out”.
Figures it out.
I mean, if a rookie gives you that kind of production we just discussed, I’m not sure that works. I mean, I’d like to see him get healthy which by all accounts he now is. I’d like to see him get back to pulling the ball on occasion, that’s where his greatest power potential lies.
Injury aside, that’s what really happened to Hayes, he lost the balance in his approach at the plate. It made him attackable, something that wasn’t true in his 2020 sample. When he came back from injury he had an approach that did more to rob him of his power stroke than the injury itself, and he discovered that very thing himself at the end of the season. Probably started trusting his hand and wrist more too, which shouldn’t be discounted. Even with that, he didn’t really get around to pulling it again. In fact he went a stretch of almost 3 months without a single hit to the left side of the field.
That’s like playing a round of golf with only your driver, pitching wedge and putter. You can get the job done, but you’re also going to leave a lot of shots on the course.
He’ll get this part of his game back, that’s part of the evolution of a player. Finding something that works for you is sometimes one small tweak away. Unfortunately so is falling into a bad habit.
Before the injury and especially after it, Hayes could be had with a well placed slider on the outside. An adjustment to reach that pitch had two distinct repercussions, first, pitchers simply started placing that pitch off the plate either getting swings or takes, and second opened the inside part of the plate to much easier executed pitches.
This is all part of the learning process.
Bryan Reynolds in 2020 struggled with any pitch down and in as a lefty, as well as the high fastball. It was a shortened season, and while I completely understand why Bryan would happily just forget it ever happened, I prefer to assume had it been a normal season he’d have figured it out to a degree and come back to the norm.
I expect Ke’ to get right back to looking like not only someone we look at as a wonderful fielder, to a solid all around ball player in 2022.
We can look past him to the next group of prospects on their way, but that’s discounting the overall success Hayes has been so far. Truth be told, if anyone coming up produces that stat line in their first 450-500 at bats, well, I’ll be first in line to call it a win.
This team will need superstars if they’re going to call this a success to be sure, but they’ll also simply need successful players. So when one shows himself to be that as a baseline early on, take the win, it’s gotta start there.
Don’t expect Hayes to play 162 games looking like he did in 2020, just take solace in the fact it’s in there and he’s capable of giving the team that kind of production along with his steady baseline he’s proven.
This journey is going to be filled with can’t miss guys who don’t make it. Guys we wrote off who step up and prove they were overlooked. And if everything goes extremely well, a bunch of guys who simply become good, to above average major league ball players. Let’s not act like that’s a failure when it happens.