Over the past few offseasons there has been a lot of talk surrounding Keston Hiura. As a very talented hitting prospect out of the 2017 draft class, Keston Hiura made his MLB debut with the Brewers in May of 2019 and made an immediate positive impact on that years team.
Unfortunately from 2020 and beyond it has been tough sledding which has resulted in being shuttled between both the major and minor leagues.
Recently, there has been some optimism surrounding Hiura. Will Sammon of the Athletic reported that he has been working with hitting coach Sean Thompson in regards to toning down his leg kick.
By now Brewers fans are all to familiar with the success that prospect Joey Weimer had in 2021 after toning down the big leg kick he had in college. While Weimer saw incredible results and went on to put up beyond video game numbers and highlights, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Keston Hiura will experience the same success. However, it will be one thing to keep in mind once baseball resumes this year.
As we look towards 2022, Keston Hiura again initially may factor into the Brewers lineup. So what would bring us to say that Hiura’s 2022 campaign was a success?
This is a complex questions with multiple potential answers.
For me, I began by looking at his current expected role/playing time. When looking at the current depth chart, he is not slated to be the every day starter at any position. However, he could carve out a platoon role at first base, would be a great DH candidate, and may potentially play some outfield.
With this positional flexibility, if his bat gets going and he essentially leaves it impossible for Craig Counsell to leave him out of the lineup, he could see a large amount of playing time. This would be similar to what Luis Urias did in 2021. While there definitely is defensive concerns no matter what position he is at (except DH), the biggest indicator of his 2022 playing time will come from how he performs offensively.
What offensive statistics or analytics would lead us to say that Hiura’s 2022 season was a success?
Historically, here at Reviewing the Brew, we have been keeping an eye on two specifics metrics. Those are BABIP and ISO. BABIP measures a batter’s batting average on balls in play while ISO takes a look at power.
Since 2019, we may have seen Hiura’s BABIP regress near its mean. After posting an absurd .402 BABIB in 2019, this number dropped to .273 in 2020 and .269 in 2021. He has not seen a drastic change in exit velocity or hard hit percentage, so rather this regression is likely related to less opportunities as unfortunately there has been an inverse relationship with BABIP in regards to his strikeout percentage. In 2019 his strikeout percentage was 30.7%. This climbed in 2020 to 34.6% and again even higher to 39% in 2021.
As for ISO, he has also seen a regression. After posting a .268 ISO in 2019, which was nearly 80 points higher than the 2019 league average, his ISO dropped to .193 in 2020 and .133 in 2021. A contributing factor, especially in 2021, was the lack of long balls hit. In 2020 he led the Brewers in home runs with 13 and this number decreased to just four in 2021 with just a 44 plate appearance difference.
For me, statistical evidence of a good season in 2022 will be determined by how he performs from a power standpoint. League average ISO in 2021 was .167 and I would like to see Hiura shoot for a metric closer to .200. The concept here is that the more extra base compiled will result in increased production/runs for the Brewers.
The bottom line for Hiura is that if he hits well enough to earn an everyday role again, that will be a successful season for him. He’s a part-time player as it stands now, but if he earns his starting job again, and he will have to earn it, then that’s a good bounce back season for Hiura. Whatever the stat line is, whether he’s hitting .300 or .275 or .250, if what he’s doing is good enough to win a starting job again, that’s a successful season.
This is an important season for the Brewers prospect who has just one minor league option remaining and who will hit arbitration next off-season. Hopes are high that he can rebound from his struggles of seasons past, but only time will tell this indeed comes to fruition or not.