SCOUTING STATCAST (Vol. VI): Ke'Bryan Hayes can and will hit; Singer's slider; Yelich's weird year

The season is winding down, but the jockeying for fantasy baseball roto crowns is ongoing. We can begin to look ahead at 2021 while also noticing some guys that could help during the stretch. Although the season will soon end, there's still a significant, league-altering amount of games remaining during this chaotic sprint. The sixth edition of Scouting Statcast begins with a personal favorite, and a message to the doubters:

After his first 46 career plate appearances, Ke'Bryan Hayes is hitting .310/.370/.595 with two homers, five RBI, one steal and seven runs. Like many prospects making their debut, Hayes's K% is high at 28.3%, but he's displayed impressive strike zone awareness and struck out 18.8% of the time in AAA. We can expect the K% to decline in the future, and the walk percentage will probably increase a tad.


For whatever reason, some fantasy baseball analysts keep labeling Hayes as all glove and no bat. Jeff Zimmerman's blurb at Rotographs inside his week seven Waiver Wire column followed by the scouting report from his own website's prospect writer:

That's an above-average grade on the future hit tool, report of good contact and speed, and an average grade on his raw power. Basically, that's not a report of "all glove, no bat." Here's MLB.com's most recent report on Hayes:

Yes, that's a plus grade on the hit tool, above average run grade, and average power grade. I don't know if some analysts are reading about the wrong guy or watching a different player. But if you want to believe Hayes is all glove and no bat, I will take the draft share in every single league next season.


Let's get back to that contact:

If you need help scoring at home, Hayes has put 28 balls in play so far. Of those 28, 19 were hit 97.9+ MPH, and 10 were hit 104.0 MPH or harder. And of those batted balls, nine were off Jon Lester, Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Dylan Cease, and Dane Dunning among other talented arms with stuff like Michael Lorenzen and Tejay Antone.


Sure, the xBA (.288) and xSLG (.475) suggest an extremely small sample is inflated, but Hayes's speed (76th percentile in sprint speed; 60/55 run grades on the scouting reports) helped turn two balls into triples. Again, extremely small sample size alert: but among players with 25 or more batted ball events, Hayes ranks No. 1 in hard hit% and No. 2 in average exit velocity behind Miguel Sano.


As Eric Longenhagen's report at Fangraphs.com notes, Hayes does make a lot of good contact into the ground. There's a big discrepancy in his fly ball/line drive rate depending on where you look. Baseball Savant lists the two as 13.8%/34.5%, respectively, while Fangraphs lists it as 27.6%/20.7%. Regardless, Hayes is going to need to put the ball in the air more to keep the slugging and fantasy value up. Hayes also has very respective chase and contact rates, including 90.2% (Statcast) zone contact rate. Visually, he has impressive bat-to-ball ability, is highly competitive in the batter's box, and does a good job of tapping into his athleticism in his balanced swing.


Oh, and did I mention he has an impeccable reputation as a high school prospect, has a high makeup grade and is the son of a big leaguer?


This is real talent showing immediately, and Hayes is going to hit near the top of the Pittsburgh lineup next season. His elite glove will keep him in the lineup even during the occasional slump, but as long as Hayes keeps hammering the ball at an elite rate, he's going to be someone fantasy owners might stick into their lineups in deeper leagues during the stretch run and will certainly target for value in 2021 drafts.

After nearly throwing a no-hitter against Cleveland, Royals rookie righthander Brady Singer dominated Detroit last night. Over 6.0 shutout innings, he gave up just two hits, walked one, and struck out eight. A former first-round pick who unsurprisingly moved quickly through the Kansas City organization, Singer has more than held his own during his debut season. And he's done it by basically being just a two-pitch pitcher - sinker/slider.


In particular, Singer has been dominant in September. This month, the Florida product has a 1.82 FIP, 3.40 xFIP, 27.6 K% and 22.4 K-BB%, which is by far the best of the season. What's up? Well, Singer's August was filled with starts against the Cubs, Twins twice, and at the White Sox. In September, he's feasted on the Indians and Tigers after being knocked around some by the White Sox.


Digging deeper, Singer's slider has improved in September. While the xBA and whiff% are basically identical, Singer improved his xSLG 100 points more than his previous best monthly mark; the wOBA of .079 is by far the best, and his xwOBA is under .300 (.274) for the first time in a month this season. Singer is throwing the pitch the most of any month this season, and has almost completely ditched his changeup. The average pitch velocity is essentially the same, but the movement of Singer's slider has changed.


Brooks Baseball list the pitch's vertical movement as -1.30 inches this month compared to -2.53 in July and -1.97 in August; or -35.43 in break plus gravity, -36.90 and -37.43, respectively. What's that mean? Singer's slider is acting more like a slider with sharper, more horizontal break as opposed to veering towards more of slurve. It could also mean the pitch is spinning more efficiently, but I don't have access to that data. Perhaps this is merely a coincidence given the sample size, but the slider is undoubtedly performing better with slightly different shape. Given it's taken this trend two-straight months, it's probably something he's worked on.


Here's why I like Singer the most: he competes, and he throws strikes. With future plus command and control on the horizon, Singer is already proving capable of throwing deep into games and he's done a good job of missing barrels as well. Does he need a third pitch? Certainly. But his slider-sinker combo has been good enough for a 4.14 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 52 strikeouts over 54.1 innings and none of statistics should be labeled as a fluke.

If you're like me and spent a No. 2 overall pick on Christian Yelich for a competing Rotowire OC team, you're probably wondering WTF is up with this season. His season has a fairly straightforward explanation. Well, at least it does statistically.

You'll notice some parts of Yelich's 2020 batted-ball profile are similar to 2019. His xwOBCON is nearly identical; his average exit velocity is up 1.1 MPH; sweet spot% is similar; and his hard hit% is up as well with a kind of a similar barrel%, especially considering the small sample size this season. On that page you'll probably also notice the dramatic increase in K%. Let's explore why...

Strangely, Yelich is actually chasing way less than he was last season. The bigger issue is he's also making contact far less often than he did last season. Yelich is seeing more pitches in the zone than last season, but swinging less at those pitches, which includes a bizarre decline in meatball swing %; those are the types of pitches elite hitters hammer 100+ MPH almost every time. Throw in a dramatic increase in whiff% with an even more dramatic decrease in first-pitch swing% and you have one of the most confusing hitting profiles of 2020.


During the height of the Astros scandal, there were whispers around baseball the Brewers were among the small list of teams doing something similar. Nothing came of it. Perhaps there was nothing to it. Perhaps someone just has to keep looking under Rob Manfred's rug. But even if true, it wouldn't completely explain why Yelich, who was a good hitter before arriving to Milwaukee, is suddenly swinging and missing so much and has a totally altered approach... I think.


Yelich has been a bit unlucky. He has a xBA of .267 and xSLG of .501 compared to .208 and .440, respectively. And sample size always needs to be repeated with any 2020 discussion. That said, would you take him in the first round of 2021 drafts ahead of Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, Jr., Shane Bieber, Mookie Betts, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Jose Ramirez, Trea Turner, etc.? It's looking like it'll be more of a risk and discussion than anyone would have anticipated two months ago.

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