Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Keston Hiura has had a perplexing 2022 season.
The former first round pick has struggled to find his footing and has bounced between MLB and Triple-A Nashville multiple times this season in search of consistent playing time. While his season has had some highs, it has also had many lows.
However, certain data shows that Brewers slugger Keston Hiura’s struggles may not from a bad eye, but rather an inability to put bat to ball.
Hiura has raw numbers that look good, with a 131 wRC+ on the season. But that mark can be deceiving as Hiura has a 59 wRC+ against LHP and a 191 wRC+ against RHP. That, combined with Hiura’s 43.6% strikeout rate, has left him on the outside looking in for playing time, as Rowdy Tellez has seen a lion’s share of 1B this season after taking control of the platoon early.
Entering play on Tuesday, there were 16 batters who have at least 100 plate appearances and a strikeout rate over 35.0%. Hiura is one of them and has the highest strikeout rate of all of those batters.
Of those 16 batters, Hiura has the 7th lowest swing rate on pitches outside of the zone (32.2%), meaning he swings at only about a third of pitches that FanGraphs rules as out of the strike zone. That is actually right in line with the median O-Swing% of 32.4% (min 100 PA).
As a fun note, Jose Ramirez, who has a strikeout rate of just 9.8% has the same O-Swing% as Hiura.
Where Keston deviates is his contact rate on pitches outside of the zone (O-Contact%). Hiura’s O-Contact% is 48.2%, well below the median of 63.5%, and 16th lowest among all hitters (min 100 PA).
When looking solely at pitches in the strike zone, his contact issues are also apparent. Hiura swings at 71.7% of pitches in the strike zone, slightly above the 69.3% median of those with 100 PA.
But Hiura only makes contact on 68.1% of pitches he swings at in the strike zone with the league median being 86%. That is a significant gap between Hiura and the rest of the league. His 68.1% is the lowest among hitters with 100 PA, meaning no one makes contact on fewer pitches in the zone than Keston Hiura does.
15.9% of the pitches that Hiura sees result in a called strike, which puts him squarely in the middle of the pack.
It’s worth noting that this exercise only looks at the pitches regardless of how what type they are. It values a fastball (39.3% Whiff rate) the same as a breaking pitch (47.2%).
So, when looking at what all this data means, it indicates that Hiura does not necessarily chase bad pitches, he instead just plain struggles to make contact when he swings at pitches.
Hiura does not swing at pitches that are out of the zone at a particular high clip, perhaps indicating that he is able to recognize pitches and track them. He just is not able to put the bat to the ball on a consistent basis.
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Hiura’s future role on the team is not clear. It is unknown if the Brewers looked into moving him at the MLB trade deadline or how they will handle Hiura next season. The DH is here to stay, and with Andrew McCutchen on an expiring deal, it may be possible for Hiura to slide into that role. First, though, he needs to fix the contact issues that have plagued him for the past two seasons.