Threading the Needle in a Hayes-stack

5/14/23- By Michael Castrignano – @412DoublePlay on Twitter

It’s been a while since I have been able to get the time to sit down a break-down a player for the Bucs. With the current offensive woes, I figured I should look at profiling a hitter. Possibly, one of our best.

If I told you we had a player with:

  • Same Sweet Spot% as Yandy Diaz
  • Same Average Exit Velocity as Juan Soto
  • Same Hard Hit% as JT Realmuto
  • Same Solid Contact% as Marcus Semien

You would, understandably, be skeptical. 

If I told you that this player also has the same barrel % as Luis Arraez, it might make more sense. 

And, if it isn’t clear by now, I’m talking about Ke’Bryan Hayes. 

We’ll come back to the barrel percentage part in a second but first, let’s talk Hayes.

Didn’t I just write about Hayes two months ago? Yes, I did. But circumstances changed and, as the early season has progressed, a new story has emerged.

In Ke’s brief debut in 2020, he posted a .376/.442/.682 triple slash, aided strongly by his unsustainably high .450 BABIP. In 2021 and 2022, those numbers dropped considerably to .321 and .307, respectively. With a league average of approximately .300, Hayes was out-performing the mean. 

In 2023, he currently has a BABIP this year of .265. Just as 2020 was unsustainable, so is 2023, and for a number of reasons.

The argument that Hayes has never hit for much power in the minor leagues is fairly well-known. And he honestly doesn’t need to be a strong hitter to make his 8-year, $70M contract a steal as his defense alone is most valuable. Since 2020, Hayes leads all of baseball in defensive runs saved with 53. The next highest? Fellow NL Central third baseman Nolan Arenado with 42.

That said, the hot corner is typically associated with hitting, especially among competitive teams. Bill Madlock, Bobby Bonilla and Pedro Alvarez are some examples of strong hitting corner-infielders who played on winning teams in Pittsburgh. 

Can Hayes join them? 


It’s complicated.

Look at these two ranking charts. One of them is Ke’Bryan Hayes. The other? Bo Bichette. They both have some strong numbers across the board but a key difference for purposes of this discussion comes from the Barrel %. And that makes it pretty obvious that image number 2 is our third baseman.

As I mentioned previously Hayes is near the bottom of the league in barrelling up the ball, only managing to do so 5.3% of the time. For comparison’s sake, that’s the same number as Yasmani Grandal of the White Sox and Trea Turner of the Phillies, neither of whom are really hard-hitters and both of whom are more established in their respective major league careers.

Where Ke does look promising is nearly everywhere else.

Among qualified hitters, he ranks 20th in average exit velocity, 39th in hard hit percentage and 41st in solid contact percentage. He’s also posting a career-best strikeout percentage of 15.8% while walking at a strong 8.1% rate.

So why does this matter and how does this all differ from the barrel percentage?

Well, a “barreled ball” needs to travel at a certain velocity and at a certain launch angle. The velocity has rarely been an issue for Young Hayes. But the launch angle has been a different story.

This is a breakdown of Ke’Bryan’s at-bats from his game against Detroit on Wednesday. Facing left-handed pitching (against whom he has a career .780 OPS), he went 0-5 despite hitting three balls 95+ MPH.

The ideal launch angle is somewhere between 15-20 degrees. There are some differing opinions on exactly what is best but for simplicity, we’ll go with that range. Technically, Hayes only hit one ball in that range – his 2nd inning lineout, which had an expected batting average of .580, the 7th highest xBA in the game.

Unfortunately, not every well-hit ball will land for a hit. And not every poorly hit one will end as an out. For example: Bryan Reynolds hit a 5th inning double with a launch angle of -1, exit velocity of 70.2 MPH and xBA of .100, which traveled a whopping 34 feet. 

We take it for granted as fans but baseball is an incredibly difficult game, especially at the highest level. There’s talent involved in getting there, sure. But guys also need an incredible amount of luck. 

Luck to stay healthy, an issue which has been problematic for Ke over the previous few seasons. 

Luck that hard-hit balls will find grass. Something that, given a large enough sample size, should even out for Hayes.

Luck that the bat hits the ball in the right spot at the right time in the right angle to make something special happen.

Hayes is a very special young man. I’ve been a big believer in him and I’ll admit, I’ve been wrong on prospects before and I will likely be wrong again.

But if there’s one who can disprove all the critics, one who can put all of these tools together along with maybe the best defensive instincts in a generation, it’s Ke’Bryan Kobe Hayes.

And I, for one, will not be surprised if and when it happens.

2 thoughts on “Threading the Needle in a Hayes-stack

  1. Yep, I agree, there is just too much promising there in the indicators. In looking at his charts and seeing a lot of him (naturally), I think he needs to work on:
    -not chasing sliders outside and low.
    -hitting fastballs better.
    -evening out his swing in that low-away quadrant without rolling over.

    These are easier said than done for an average person, but for an MLB player and his coaches, this isn’t the tallest ask–I’ll put it that way.


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