The Pirates have activated third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes from the 10-day injured list.
Infielder Kevin Padlo was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room for Hayes on the Major League roster. Padlo has bounced around between the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners before arriving in Pittsburgh, hitting .121 in 13 games.
Appearing in 103 games before landing on the IL with a back issue, Hayes has not been the offensive catalyst the Pirates were hoping he’d be after signing him through the decade at the start of the season.
Hayes has put together a .251/.323/.358 slash line with a poor .681 OPS, failing to consistently drive the ball for extra bases and potential home runs. A premier offensive position at the hot corner, Hayes has hit 18 doubles, three triples, and six homers with 35 RBI in 391 at-bats.
Luck doesn’t play into hitting a large number of home runs during a 162-game season, but Hayes has fallen victim to poorly placed balls being directly at position players.
Despite what looks to be an average year, Hayes is in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage, 89th in max exit velocity, and 91st in average exit velocity according to Baseball Savant. The closer you are to the 99th percentile, the better.
How bad has his hit placement been? Hayes is in the 99th percentile in outs above average. It also doesn’t help that the 25-year-old Gold Glove candidate is in the 15th percentile in barrel percentage, a key factor in driving the ball to the gaps.
There’s no denying the quality of Hayes’ defense and the value he brings within the Pirates infield. He has Gold Glove potential and has shown the ability to single handedly prevent the Bucs from giving up the lead or widening the gap on a potential comeback.
The question remains, will Hayes continue to improve at the plate enough to stick in the top four of the lineup?
In 96 games last season, Hayes had the same number of home runs with two additional doubles and very similar slash numbers. He dealt with numerous injuries in 2021 that hampered him from reaching the next level of development.
This season though, with little protection in the lineup, Hayes has not stood out in the box.
Hayes hit .333 in April, .263 in May, under the Mendoza Line at .198 in June, and .213 in July before heating up at .297 in August.
As the dog days of summer heated up, Hayes cooled down midseason and seems to be turning a corner.
Earning the highest-paying contract in club history at $70 million, expectations and higher standards come as an effect. Hayes has been an exceptional representative off the field and has the tools to be as strong on it.
The tide may be turning on the up and down season for one of the Pirates building blocks.
There is reason for concern, but with all the procedures around the Pirates these days, it’s taking time to come to fruition.