A fractured rib kept Baltimore outfielder Austin Hays to just 33 games played in 2020, and a slow start brought his numbers down a bit. Overall, he slashed .279/.328/.393 with four home runs, 20 runs scored, nine runs batted in, and two stolen bases (40% success rate). Hays lacks significant fantasy upside, and he has the profile of a “compiler,” meaning that he’ll need volume to accrue his statistics. There’s nothing wrong with that by any means, but Hays is far from an elite fantasy asset. While it doesn’t equate to much for fantasy at face value, his solid defense should help keep his bat in the lineup, but his path to consistent playing time isn’t as clear as everyone would hope. We’ll circle back to that at the end.
Hays was much better when he returned after his injury. Here are his splits pre- and post-injury.
Pre-injury: .203/.273/.246, 6.5 percent walk rate, 19.5 percent strikeout rate, one home run, five RBI, two stolen bases, 86.5 mph average exit velocity, 106.9 mph max exit velocity, 1.8 percent barrel rate
Post-injury: .377/.404/.585, 5.3 percent walk rate, 17.5 percent strikeout rate, three home runs, four RBI, 87.4 mph average exit velocity, 105.0 mph max exit velocity, 6.8 percent barrel rate
His 2020 season didn’t exactly feature the most prolific batted ball profile. His 86.9 mile per hour average exit velocity was a steep drop from his 2019 marks, and his four percent barrel rate isn’t the most eye-popping number. To put the same numbers into a different perspective, his average exit velocity, hard hit rate and barrel rate clocked in at the 20th, 16th and 17th percentile respectively. However, as you can see, his numbers were better after returning from injury, so that’s reason to believe.
His overall numbers from the season shouldn’t carry as much weight as his numbers post-injury. He was damn good, and it is that kind of production the Baltimore Orioles hope to get from the 25-year-old outfielder. Despite lacking impactful contact on a regular basis, Hays is good for not striking out. Yes, his rate from 2020 was higher than recent stints, but hey, 2020 was a wild year for everyone. However, his jump in 2020 could just be some bad luck, considering some factoids just don’t quite add up.
It’s not too often that a player’s strikeout rate goes up, despite making more contact in the zone, more contact overall and posting a lower swinging strike rate. Interesting.
To prove that his strikeout rate should have been lower, take a look at two guys with very similar plate discipline metrics to Hays, and how much lower their strikeout rates were.
Courtesy of FanGraphs
However, the big differentiator is that zone-swing rate. It’s still worth noting, and Hays should be able to get his strikeout rate closer to 15-16 percent in 2021.
As mentioned earlier, Hays doesn’t have a clear path to a starting role. He enters spring training competing with Cedric Mullins for the starting center field spot. Hays could serve as the designated hitter as well, but he’s not a guaranteed starter at time of writing. Even though his average draft position isn’t exactly early, drafting a non-regular starter presents some frustrations. However, I do believe that Hays ultimately wins out, or finds himself in the lineup more often than not, but for comparison’s sake, here are Hays’ and Mullins’ 162 game averages, per Baseball Reference:
Hays: .272/.320/.424 with 20 home runs, 66 RBI, 79 runs scored and nine stolen bases.
Mullins: .225/.290/.342 with 10 home runs, 38 RBI, 65 runs scored and 14 stolen bases.
Hays should win out, and while he ultimately isn’t a very flashy pick for fantasy baseball, he should be a steady contributor in a hitter-friendly home park. He’s a jack of all trades but master of none type, and at the point in the draft where you’ll begin to ponder Hays, he’s a nice way to get yourself some numbers in all of the major offensive categories. Again, he’s not flashy, and his upside is limited, but the potential for .280 with 15 home runs and 10 stolen bases is pretty enticing outside of the top 200.
Don’t be afraid of the fact that he dons a Baltimore Orioles jersey. The top of the lineup can do some damage, and the home park should help boost Hays’ numbers. I’m not convinced that he gets to 20 home runs in 2021, but 15 is definitely in reach, alongside a quality .280 average.