Ke’Bryan Hayes Is Virtually Elevating

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Ke'Bryan Hayes
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports activities

If we’ve written it as soon as, we’ve written it a hundred instances: Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes is a strong participant, but when he might simply determine how one can hit the ball within the air, he’d be a star. Effectively, right here we’re in June 2023, and it seems that Hayes has lastly began elevating the ball some.

Ke’Bryan Hayes Rises Up

Yr 2022 2023 Change
GB% 49.6 44.4 -5.2
GB/FB 1.71 1.18 -0.53
LA 5.3 12.5 +7.2
Barrel% 3.9 7.0 +3.1
wRC+ 88 85 -3

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

For the second season in a row, Hayes has knocked at the very least 5 proportion factors off his groundball charge, elevated his hard-hit charge and common exit velocity, and greater than doubled his launch angle. And for the second season in a row, his general efficiency on the plate has stayed virtually precisely the identical. Let me say this very clearly: We had been fallacious. We’re so sorry. We’ll work to do higher sooner or later. Let’s check out what precisely Hayes has been doing to make liars out of us.

Earlier than we dive into the batted ball profile, Hayes’ plate self-discipline has been trending within the fallacious route. He’s making extra contact, however he’s chasing extra and swinging at fewer pitches within the zone. Whereas he might stand to be extra aggressive on the plate, that’s not the best way to go about it. Because of this, he’s reduce about three factors off each his stroll charge and his strikeout charge. That’s not precisely a wash. Final 12 months, when Hayes didn’t put the ball in play, his wOBA was .209. This 12 months, it’s .154. In brief, it’s extra necessary than ever he produces when he makes contact.

Ke’Bryan Hayes on Contact

Yr 2022 2023 Change
wOBACon .333 .345 +12
xwOBACon .347 .376 +29

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

His balls in play have been extra productive, however not by very a lot. His wOBA on contact is up 12 factors, and his xwOBA on contact is up 29 factors. Perhaps he’s been a bit unfortunate, however we’re speaking a couple of participant who, at the very least in concept, simply sewed up the best gap in his sport, and did so whereas hitting the ball more durable than ever. Why isn’t he off to the races? As a result of that gap has not, the truth is, been sewn up.

We’re not the liars; Hayes’ launch angle is the liar. Whereas the truth that a participant’s launch angle doesn’t inform the entire story is not essentially a shock, Hayes’ launch angle is a very crafty fabulist.

In practically each quadrant of the zone and in opposition to practically each pitch kind, Hayes has elevated his launch angle dramatically. Though it would seem that Hayes is solely following M.O.P.’s timeless recommendation, that’s removed from the entire story. Check out his 10 hardest-hit balls of the season up to now.

Ke’Bryan Hayes Hardest Hit Balls

Date Pitch EV LA Distance End result
Could 2 Sinker 113.1 -2° 31 Groundball Single
April 13 Sinker 111.3 -1° 41 Groundout to Second
June 5 4-Seamer 110.4 -10° 12 GIDP to Second
Could 22 Slider 109.5 16° 356 Line Drive Double
April 2 Cutter 109.5 -6° 19 Groundout to First
April 16 4-Seamer 109.3 58 Groundout to Brief
June 19 4-Seamer 109.1 89 Groundout to Second
April 17 Sinker 108.7 83 Groundball Single
June 5 Sinker 108.5 -10° 11 Groundball Single
April 18 4-Seamer 108.5 -16° 7 Groundout to Brief

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

There isn’t a fly ball within the bunch. Solely one among these balls had a launch angle above 3° or traveled greater than 89 toes within the air. Most of them had a destructive launch angle. I might maintain going with the enjoyable details: Solely three made it previous the pitcher’s mound on the fly. Solely three of those balls that he completely demolished made it to the outfield in any respect!

Final 12 months, Hayes’ floor ball charge was the seventeenth highest in baseball. This 12 months it’s the 61st. That’s a giant enchancment, however when Hayes actually squares the ball up, he’s nonetheless very a lot hitting it on the bottom. Right here’s one other method to take a look at issues:

Ke’Bryan Hayes Launch Angle

Batted Ball Kind 2022 2023 Change
Groundball -17.9 -10.1 +7.8
Line Drive 14.7 15.4 +0.7
Fly Ball 35.8 35.3 -0.5
Popup 65 63.1 -1.9

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Hayes is hitting fewer groundballs, however that’s solely driving half of the rise in his launch angle. The opposite half is coming from the truth that he’s not beating these grounders straight down into the earth the best way he used to. Because of this, his efficiency on grounders has improved significantly. Sadly, his fly balls have carried out worse than they did final 12 months.

Ke’Bryan Hayes wOBA

Batted Ball Kind 2022 2023 Change
Groundball .239 .287 +48
Line Drive .613 .615 +2
Fly Ball .276 .247 -29

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

There’s a easy clarification for that: Hayes tends to hit his fly balls and line drives to middle subject, and air balls do the least harm within the massive a part of the ballpark. Because of this, his wOBA tends to underperform his xwOBA dramatically. This 12 months, 41% of Hayes’ air balls went to middle, up from 38% final 12 months, and his wOBA on them is .429, 85 factors beneath his .514 xwOBA.

It’s in all probability time to acknowledge that launch angle isn’t the one factor holding Hayes again. Thus far this 12 months, 152 gamers have hit at the very least 40 fly balls. Hayes is one among simply 14 whose fly ball wOBA is worse than their groundball wOBA. Except wizards like Luis Arraez and Jeff McNeil, who can seemingly shoot grounders towards whichever gap they select, that’s not an inventory you need to be on. As Nathaniel Grimm famous when writing about Hayes in Could, “Good energy hitters are aggressive in the course of the pitch.” Except Hayes can exit and pull the ball extra or discover a technique to faucet into his energy when he’s elevating the ball, limiting his groundball charge can solely assist him a lot.

It is a story about how launch angle might be deceptive, but it surely’s additionally a narrative about how insanely low Hayes’ launch angle was once. Though the adjustments in his batted ball profile aren’t sufficient to show him into the star that all of us hope he’ll grow to be, they’re all steps in the proper route. That is the third 12 months in a row that they’ve trended that method. I do know I had a variety of enjoyable with Hayes’ 10 hardest-hit balls of the 12 months, however his launch angle on hard-hit balls continues to be 6.4° greater than it was final 12 months, and 5% extra of his hard-hit balls had been within the air this 12 months. He’s additionally tightened up the usual deviation of his launch angle by practically 3°. Hayes must be a bit extra aggressive, however the remainder of us would possibly simply want a bit extra endurance.

Thanks to reader 20longyears, who famous Hayes’ elevated launch angle throughout Ben Clemens’ chat final week.

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