Almost straight out of a Shakespearean play, Keston Hiura presents himself to fantasy players as a worthy power with speed target but there's one tragic flaw, strikeouts. Well, perhaps there's two flaws evidenced by his struggles making consistent contact. Among all qualified hitters in the 60-game sprint of 2020, Hiura finished with the second worst swinging strike percentage (20.4) to Luis Robert while owning the lowest contact rate (59.3 percent) and the worst Z-Contact (in the strike zone) percentage of 67.9 on the season.

Of players with at least 200 plate appearances, Hiura recorded the highest strikeout percentage (34.6) in the majors. While his team struggled to produce runs, Hiura did launch 13 home runs and stole three bases over 59 games spanning 246 plate appearances. He scored 30 runs while driving in 32 with a .212/.297/.410 slash line. A far cry from his strong debut in 2019 when Hiura hit over .300 in just short of 350 plate appearances with 19 home runs and nine steals.

Discerning if Hiura went through an adjustment phase or bad luck may decide how to handle his outlook for 2021. Noting all the numbers above in regards to his contact and propensity to strikeout, it's going to require some patience. According to Statcast, Hiura recorded 134 batted ball events with 19 barrels (14.2 percent), an average exit velocity of 87.4 MPH and 39.6 hard hit rate. Both his exit velocity and hard hit percentages cratered in 2020. Hiura lost four MPH on his average exit velocity while his hard hit rate fell by over 10 percent to 39.6 last year.

His expected numbers did not reflect much bad luck since they weigh quality of contact when being configured. Hiura owned a .210 expected batting average (xBA), .434 expected slugging (xSLG) and .304 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Viewing Hiura's zone swing percentage reveals it remained stable but his zone contact fell by 10.2 percent to only 64.4 percent. League average of zone contact, 82.8 percent. Overall, Hiura's swing percentage also remained relatively aligned to his rookie season but his whiff rate rose by 6.5 percent to 42.7 percent in 2020. Once again, well above the league average (24.5 whiff percentage).

In order to quantify how Hiura struggles, his zone profile may shed some light on the matter. First, from Statcast, here's how elevated fastballs affect Hiura:

Dating back to his debut in the majors, Hiura prefers hitting pitches in the bottom third of the strike zone evidenced by his average exit velocity in this range rate much higher than his other zones. Not only did contact suffer, Hiura produced more ground balls (up 6.5 percent) with less fly balls. He pulled the ball more often while his topped percentage rose by almost six points. In regards to his percentile ranks, with 100 being the best, Hiura's xwOBA ranked in the 36th percentile, his xBA in the 10th, strikeout percentage in the fourth and he owned the lowest whiff percentile in the majors.

In an article in The Athletic by Will Sammon, he explored how elevated fastballs continue to confound Hiura. This caused some further examination of his results against the pitch. First, the strikeouts conundrum. Hiura finished with two or more strikeouts in 28 of his 59 contests in 2020 (47 percent). Expanding the sample out a bit further for a larger sample, Hiura struck out at two times or more in 45 of 116 games (38.8 percent) from the onset of the second half in 2019 through the end of last year. Accruing 484 plate appearances in this time frame, Hiura recorded a 32.4 strikeout percentage totaling 157 in them. As alluded to in Sammon's article, whiffs in the zone plague Hiura.

Being a visual learner, here's Hiura's whiff percentage in within his zone profile courtesy of Brooks Baseball from 2019:

Hiura made enough contact in the middle and bottom of the strike zone to produce the 19 home runs in this season. But, scouting reports circulated and he faced a strong stable of pitching in the truncated 2020 season facing the American League and National League central teams only. Here's this same profile from 2020, note the rise in the top third of the strike zone:

If Hiura's going to rebound in 2021, he needs to improve against fastballs. Sammon's article referenced Hiura working on standing up straighter in his stance in an attempt to adjust to fastballs up in the zone. Due to the lack of time to adjust, there's room for improvement but tracking how Hiura does in spring training on fastballs may be a key to predicting his upcoming campaign.

Taking this one step further, Brooks Baseball accounts for whiff percentage by pitch, which aligns with Fangraphs swinging strike percent. But, Brooks breaks it down by offering for the following results for Hiura:

  • Hiura vs. Fastballs - 1,494 total pitches seen, 15.8 SwStr% in 2019, 19.6 SwStr% in 2020
  • Hiura vs. Breaking Pitches - 671 total pitches seen, 24.7 SwStr% in 2019, 20.7 SwStr% in 2020
  • Hiura vs. Offspeed Pitches - 200 total pitches seen, 25 SwStr%, in 2019, 33.3 SwStr% in 2020

On Statcast, Hiura owned whiff percentages (whiffs per swing, not swinging strikes) of 41.5 against fastballs, 42.4 versus breaking pitches and 50 percent facing offspeed pitches. Again, plenty of room for improvement.

For those searching for a positive, Hiura continued his ability to produce barrels despite his struggles last season. He ranked in the 89th percentile in barrels in 2020 and in the 91st percentile of barrel percentage. When he does make contact and elevates the launch angle, Hiura's power shines through.

Expanding his statistics from the start of the second half of 2019 through the end of last year, his results appear as such:

  • Hiura 2H 2019-through-2020: 116 games, 484 plate appearances, 69 runs, 25 home runs, 69 RBI, nine stolen bases; .267/.343/.512, 7.4 BB%, 32.4 K%, .244 ISO, .357 wOBA

His swinging strike percentage in this sample sits at 18.7 percent with a 62.8 contact rate, 72.9 Z-Contact percentage and 34.4 O-Swing percent. For a visual of his line drives and fly balls in these 116 contests, here's his spray chart courtesy of Statcast:

Hiura's only entering his Age-24 season and will not turn 25 until August of this year. But, his defense remains shaky and if his contact issues do not improve, especially against fastballs it may affect his playing time and overall production. Through his first two seasons, Hiura's logged 143 games with 81 runs, 32 home runs, 81 RBI, 12 stolen bases and a .266/.338/.505 slash line over 595 plate appearances.

His projections on two different sites come with some trepidation for his future:

  • Hiura 2021 Steamer projection: 144 games, 621 plate appearances, 80 runs, 30 home runs, 88 RBI, 11 stolen bases; .255/.323/.474, 7.3 BB%, 27.7 K%, .219 ISO, .332 wOBA
  • Hiura 2021 ZiPS projection: 143 games, 610 plate appearances, 79 runs, 28 home runs, 86 RBI, 12 stolen bases; .246/.318/.460, 6.9 BB%, 30.2 K%, .214 ISO, .356 wOBA

Before adding our own projection set, Hiura's generated 342 batted ball events his first two years with 48 barrels (14 percent), an 89.8 MPH average exit velocity and 45.8 hard hit percentage. This yields a .243 xBA with a .434 xSLG and .304 xwOBA in them. Hiura's neither as good as his .304 debut in batting in 2019 nor as bad as his .212 average from last season. A scale of the .243 xBA from Statcast to his Steamer projection of .255 represent a possible scale with his career .266 being the high tide in this category.

As for his counting statistics given the potential variance of games played in 2021, here's some results based on plate appearances:

  • Hiura with 300 plate appearances: 40 runs, 16 HR, 41 RBI, 5 SB
  • Hiura with 450 plate appearances: 60 runs, 24 HR, 62 RBI, 7 SB
  • Hiura with 600 plate appearances: 80 rus, 32 HR, 82 RBI, 9 SB

After parcelling out all of Hiura's data, it's apparent he owns power. It's also clear he struggles with fastballs, especially ones in the top third of the strike zone. If Hiura adjusts to how the league attacks him, his batting average and counting statistics could tick up. However, Milwaukee struggled on offense last year so planning on a full bounce back at Hiura's price points remains a risky venture. Invest with eyes open.

Statistical Credits:

ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski