Keston Hiura is mashing the baseball against righties in 2022. He’s shown the glimpses of that talent the Brewers saw to make him their first round pick in 2017 and call him up in 2019 in a great rookie campaign. So how close is he to returning to form?
It’s been a long slump for Keston Hiura, who struggled in the shortened 2020 season and then completely cratered in 2021. He entered this season barely hanging on to his roster spot but with a revamped swing to help him bust his slump.
How is that going? The results are somewhat mixed.
If you look at his .360 OBP, .826 OPS, and 129 OPS+, you’d think that it’s been a massive success for Hiura getting back to his old level of production in 2019. In his rookie year, Hiura had a .368 OBP, .938 OPS, and a 138 OPS+. That’s close enough to say he’s back to form, right? Not quite.
Brewers 1B/DH Keston Hiura is crushing righties, but his strikeouts are a problem that’s getting worse.
For a talented hitter like Hiura is, strikeouts are a major problem. He struck out 30.3% of the time in 2019 and that percentage has been getting steadily worse ever since. He had a 34.6% K rate in 2020, followed by a 39.1% K rate in 2021, and despite his success this year, he has a 44.1% K rate in 2022.
Even striking out 30% of the time is considered a lot and he’s been on a steady increase of 4-5 percentage points every year since. That trend needs to be reversed if Hiura is going to continue on the success he’s had this year.
He hasn’t been hitting for enough power to justify his still relatively low batting average and high strikeout rate. Although he’s been in the lineup more often lately, these strikeout concerns are enough to prevent us from declaring Hiura back.
Hiura’s reverse splits between facing righties and lefties is extreme, but not unusual for him.
It’s been clear that Hiura struggles facing lefties and dominates righties. That’s not very common for right handed hitters like Hiura, but his splits do not lie.
This season, Hiura has a .476 OPS against lefties and is hitting .164 with one homer and a 46% K rate. In an almost even number of ABs against righties, he has a 1.101 OPS and is hitting .313 with seven homers and a 42.4% K rate. It’s obvious he’s better against righties but every time a lefty is in there, Hiura usually gets a start.
These reverse splits aren’t even new either. They were present in his breakout 2019 season as well.
Against lefties in 2019, Hiura hit .240 with a .673 OPS and just one home run with a 32.5% K rate. Against righties that year, Hiura hit .322 with a 1.021 OPS and 18 home runs with a 30.1% K rate.
Although Hiura did far worse against lefties that year, he still put up some more respectable numbers. He doesn’t have to be great against lefties, he just has to be passable. And he’s not there quite yet.
Still, even with those struggles against LHPs needing to be ironed out, Hiura should get more opportunities against righties, even with that high K rate right now. He needs to make adjustments in order to bring that down, but he’s clearly producing against them. It’s going to be difficult for Hiura to maintain that success long term unless he brings that K rate down.
Put the ball in play and good things will happen. When Hiura does put it in play, good things have been happening for him this season, which is an improvement over the last two years.
But he’s putting the ball in play less and less often, and until he reverses that trend, he won’t be able to be trusted as an everyday player in the lineup. He also can’t be an everyday player until he’s at least passable against lefties. Perhaps that’s why Craig Counsell keeps putting Hiura in the lineup against southpaws.
It’s good to see Hiura doing damage when he makes contact, but needs to start making it more often or the Brewers may need to make a tough decision.