Brewers: Keston Hiura Stuck In A Sophomore Slump
By David Gasper
The Brewers were depending on Keston Hiura to build off his rookie season in 2020 and be a focal point in the offense. That has not happened.
It’s a very inconvenient time for Keston Hiura to have a sophomore slump. Although there never really is a convenient time for a slump, Hiura’s slump has had a far greater negative impact on this Brewers team than any usual slump.
While there are several members of the Brewers offense to blame for the team-wide offensive struggles in 2020, the regression of Hiura is particularly devastating to the team’s chances of success.
Keston Hiura and the Brewers slump
The 2019 Brewers offense had numerous power bats. From Christian Yelich to Mike Moustakas to Yasmani Grandal to Eric Thames to Keston Hiura, the Brewers offense was the reason for the team’s success.
Then the 2019-20 offseason happened. Grandal signed with the White Sox. Moustakas signed with the Reds. Thames signed with the Nationals.
Brewers GM David Stearns tried to replace those established stars with hitters that can be solid, but have a much lower offensive floor. Omar Narvaez can be good, but his floor is far lower than Grandal’s floor, the same goes for Eric Sogard‘s floor and Moustakas’ floor. There was less certainty about the Brewers offense coming into 2020 with the players that left and the players that came in.
Coming into the 2020 season, the Brewers entire offense was going to be centered around Yelich and Hiura in the heart of the order, providing the bulk of the damage. To this point, that really hasn’t happened. Yelich got off to a slow start as well, but has picked it up lately, meanwhile Hiura has continued to struggle.
Keston Hiura’s struggles have made things extremely difficult on the Brewers offense.
Over his last 15 games, Hiura is hitting just .146/.263/.292 with seven hits in 48 at-bats and 22 strikeouts. He’s struck out three times in three of the last four games.
Hiura has struck out 34.4% of the time in 2020, and his 77 total strikeouts are the most in the NL. The next closest is Javier Baez with 70.
Per Fangraphs, Hiura’s contact percentage is down to 58.1% this year, and his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone is down 10 percentage points, from 76.9% last year to 66.2% this year. For whatever reason, pitchers are missing Hiura’s bat this year and he just can’t make much contact.
Then, on the contact he does make, very little is going his way. Last season, Hiura’s batting average on balls in play was up at .402, which is unusually high, even for a very good hitter. This year, Hiura has a .271 BABIP, which is far below his normal levels throughout the minors and still below league average.
As for the explanation why Hiura is making less contact this year and struggling overall, that’s tough to determine. Brewers hitting coach Andy Haines is going to need to work with Hiura and figure out the problem and what a solution is.
Perhaps it’s nothing more than a sophomore slump. Pitchers now have a year of big league film and stats on Hiura and maybe they’ve figured out ways to adjust and get him out and Hiura hasn’t been able to adjust back yet.
Whatever it is, the Brewers need him and are struggling because he hasn’t been able to produce. They came into this year with an increased reliance on Hiura and his hitting ability continuing to improve and reaching his very high ceiling and he hasn’t delivered. If this team is going to have success in the postseason, the offense needs consistent production and Hiura is going to play a key part in that.
While Hiura is far from the only reason the Brewers offense has struggled, they could’ve gotten by a lot easier if Hiura had been a least slightly closer to his 2019 production levels.