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Hayes, Batter Batter! Swing!

Breaking down the best hitting performances from yesterday's games.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (PIT): 3-3, 2B, R, RBI, BB, SB.

If you’re a Pirates fan, I’m sorry. It’s been a rough few years, but it looks like hope may be on the horizon.

Some young promising players are finally beginning to make their way to Pittsburgh, led by Ke’Bryan Hayes. The Pirates inked their 25-year-old third baseman to an eight-year, $70 million contract extension in early April, and last night he showed everyone just how much he deserves the investment, putting up a 3-3, 2B, R, RBI, BB, SB line in a winning effort.

Hayes started the scoring with an RBI double in the first inning and went on to score the game-winning run in the eighth inning off of a Yoshi Tsutsugo single. Wins have been few and far between for the Pirates since 2018, and while the team is still just 17-24, their future is starting to look a whole lot brighter.

What immediately jumps out when you look at Hayes’ statistics is his lack of power — he still hasn’t hit a single home run through 159 plate appearances. However, if you can look past the lack of power, you see a player who is getting better and better. Hayes is hitting .290/.377/.370, good for a .339 wOBA and 119 wRC+. He has career-best walk and strikeout rates of 11.9% and 17%, respectively, both at least four percentage point improvements over last year’s numbers. He has good speed; his stolen base last night was his fifth of the season, the third-highest total among qualified third basemen. Oh! And he’s played excellent defense at the hot corner on top of it all.

Hayes is turning into a great player right in front of our eyes, but he’s doing it quietly. The zero home runs and playing in Pittsburgh probably have a lot to do with that.

While he’s not going to suddenly turn into a slugging threat, his usual power stroke should come. His 7.3% barrel rate is better than his 5.1% mark from last year, a season in which he hit six home runs.

Hayes may be the quintessential example of a player who’s much more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy baseball. He’ll likely approach a 10 home run, 15 steal season with a good batting average, but from your third base spot, it’s not something you’re chasing. For the Pirates and Pittsburgh fans though, Hayes is the cornerstone of a hopefully-soon-to-be-competitive ball club.

Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:

Aristides Aquino (CIN): 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI.

Aquino did what Aquino does best on Monday, launching two home runs as the Reds fell to the Cubs 7-4. His second big fly — an eighth-inning blast off of Chris Martin — was one of the furthest hit balls of the night, traveling 439 feet to left-centerfield. Aquino was just recalled from AAA, but even with his prodigious power, I’d hesitate to take a flyer on him except in the very deepest of leagues. The only thing he does better than hit balls to the moon is strikeout. He has a 49% strikeout rate compared to just a 3.9% walk rate.

Ian Happ (CHC): 2-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, BB.

Happ’s big season continued on Monday, as he knocked in four of the Cubs’ seven runs in their win in Cincinnati. Happ’s up to a .286/.399/.437 batting line, which comes out to a 139 wRC+. We’ve seen stretches of success from the 27-year-old switch hitter before, but for the first time, it actually seems like he’ll sustain it. His 11.1% swinging-strike rate is a new career-best, and even though his .341 BABIP will surely come down, he could regress quite a bit and still be a valuable fantasy asset.

José Ramírez (CLE): 2-5, 2B, HR, R, 4 RBI, SB.

Look, Guardians is a good team name and all, but did management consider the Cleveland José Ramírez and Friends? That’s essentially what their lineup is. There’s Ramírez, then there’s everyone else. Ramírez once again did it all on Monday, ordering a combo meal with two extra-base hits and four RBI, providing most of the offense in Cleveland’s 6-1 win in Houston. Ramírez’s batting line is up to .287/.383/.601 to go along with 22 walks and just 14 strikeouts.

Aaron Judge (NYY): 2-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB.

That’s another two home runs for the soon-to-be $300 million man. Judge is putting up video game numbers in a contract year, hitting .325/.398/.715 with a league-leading 17 home runs. His 2.7 fWAR entering play Monday was the third-highest total in the majors, trailing only Manny Machado and Mike Trout. He’s on pace to make his fourth All-Star appearance this summer and will certainly be a part of the AL MVP discussion if he can keep up anything even close to this pace. If you roster Judge in fantasy, enjoy the ride.

Pavin Smith (ARI): 1-3, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, 2 BB.

Smith only had one hit in Monday’s game, but it was quite literally a big one. In the bottom of the first inning, he launched a Zack Greinke 87 mph “fastball” 444 feet over the rightfield wall, scoring two and cutting the Royals’ lead in half. The Diamondbacks would go on to win the game 9-5 and Smith would reach base two more times on walks. After yesterday’s showing, Smith’s wRC+ is now above league average at 104. His .236/.319/.394 line doesn’t scream “add me” to fantasy managers, but his 14.6% barrel rate is nearly three times better than last year’s 5.1% mark and he’s also raised his flyball rate five percentage points to 36.6%. Those improvements haven’t shown up in his batting line yet, but it might not be long until they do. He’s an interesting addition if you need first base or corner infield help.

Ramón Urías (BAL): 3-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, RBI.

Urías collected three hits in the Orioles’ 6-4 win over the Yankees, and all three were hard hits. More impressively though, two came against one of the best pitchers in baseball — Gerrit Cole. Urías doubled and homered off the Yankees’ ace before collecting his third hit of the day against the much-less-fearsome Wandy Peralta. Urías had a sneaky good year in 2021, putting up a 115 wRC+ in almost 300 plate appearances. So far this year, he hasn’t been able to repeat that success. His barrel, walk, and strikeout rates have all gotten worse this season, leading him to a .224/.272/.344 batting line and a 78 wRC+.

Whit Merrifield (KC): 2-5, HR, 2 R, RBI, SB.

Rostering Merrifield in fantasy has been brutal. You spent a high draft pick on him expecting big things, and through May 9th you got a .135 hitter with no home runs and just three stolen bases. Since then though, things have gotten way better. From May 10th onward, Merrifield is hitting .344/.371/.531 with three home runs and four steals. Your buy-low window on Merrifield is quickly closing if it hasn’t already been slammed shut. For the whole season, his numbers still don’t look great, so if the manager that rosters him in your league isn’t paying close attention, you may still be able to land him in a trade.

J.T. Realmuto (PHI): 2-4, 3B, 2 R, RBI, BB.

Getting good production out of your catcher spot is one of the hardest things to do in fantasy, so if you spend an early-round pick on a backstop you’re expecting consistently good things from him. Unfortunately, a lot of top-tier catchers have struggled in the season’s first month and a half, including Realmuto. After his two-hit performance yesterday, his batting line sits at a disappointing .232/.303/.341 with a .291 wOBA and 85 wRC+; that wRC+ doesn’t even land him among the top 20 catchers. This season marks the third straight year of declining barrel rates for the Phillies’ backstop, going from 13.6% in 2020, to 8.6% in 2021, to 4.1% in 2022. To top it off, his strikeout and walk rates of 25.2% and 7.5% have both gotten worse by a little over a percentage point — not a large number, but one that combined with the rest of the profile starts to scare me as Realmuto advances into his 30s. If you roster Realmuto, he’s not worth selling low, but I’d certainly lower the expectations you had for him on draft day.

Patrick Wisdom (CHC): 1-4, HR, R, 3 RBI.

Wisdom homered for the fourth straight game on Monday, raising his season total to 10 big flies. While Wisdom hasn’t been able to maintain his stellar 30.8% HR/FB rate from 2021, he’s compensated by raising his barrel rate to 20.5% which places him in the 98th percentile of batters. The same issues that have plagued the Cubs’ slugging third baseman throughout his career are still present, namely a 40% strikeout rate. If you can stomach that, Wisdom offers big power potential for your fantasy squad. However, in a mediocre-at-best Cubs lineup, the counting stats likely won’t accumulate to a point that he becomes a true difference-maker. If you’re in an OBP or points league, he’s definitely one to avoid.

Luke Maile (CLE): 3-3, 3 R, BB.

In his first start in over a week, Maile reached base four times in the Guardians’ win over the Astros. It was just his eighth game of the season so far, but Maile’s strong showing yesterday raised his season line to .333/.417/524. We can likely chalk that up to small sample size variance, because over his 711 career plate appearances, Maile sports just a .573 OPS. Unless you’re in a 30-team, two-catcher league, I think you can avoid Cleveland’s back-up catcher.

Brendan Donovan (STL): 2-3, 2B, R, RBI, BB.

Lost in the promotions of bigger-name prospects like Juan Yepez, Nolan Gorman, and Matthew Liberatore is the surprising success of 25-year-old Donovan. He’s hitting .340/484/.520 through 64 plate appearances in his first taste of MLB action, and the Cardinals are finding ways to get him in the lineup — his last seven starts have come at right field twice, DH, shortstop, second base, third base, and shortstop. Donovan isn’t a heralded prospect, but he had an impressive showing in the minors last year, posting a .885 OPS in 131 plate appearances in Triple-A and a .860 OPS in 219 plate appearances at Double-A. I wouldn’t rush out to add Donovan, but he’s someone to keep an eye on, especially since the Cardinals are one of the best organizations at producing talent from unexpected sources. cough devil magic cough

Luis Arraez (MIN): 2-2, R, 2 BB.

Arraez entered Monday with the third-highest OBP among hitters with at least 120 plate appearances and all he did yesterday was raise it, reaching base four times in the Twins’ 5-4 walk-off win over the Tigers. He won’t hit for power, he won’t steal bases, and his counting stats won’t go as high as you’d like, but what Arraez can do for you is bolster your batting average. He’s one of the best single-category batting average players in the game, but that’s all he is. Nothing more, nothing less. In deep leagues it’ll play, but in most leagues it won’t.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Mark Steubinger

Mark loves everything talking and writing about baseball - from fantasy leagues to the legitimate defensive prowess of Kyle Schwarber as a left fielder. Mark has a degree in Sports Communication from Bradley University and works in radio production. He lives in central Illinois where his TV is permanently tuned to Chicago Cubs games.

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