When I asked Orioles outfielder Austin Hays to analyze his own season before Wednesday’s doubleheader, the first point he made was an important one and I could tell it really mattered to him.
He stayed on the field this year.
There were a few bumps and bruises along the way, but he played in a career-high 145 games taking a career-high 535 at-bats. His team could depend on him to be there this year even if he wasn’t always playing at 100 percent. That is important to any player and gains him respect in the clubhouse.
“Personally I think it was a big win for me to stay healthy from the start to the end of the year,” Hays said. “I had a really, really solid first half. The second half I was very inconsistent and had a couple of bad stretches where I went down (in the stats). But overall I learned a lot this year and am happy with how my personal year went.”
He had 53 more plate appearances this year than he did in 2021 and produced nine more doubles with six fewer homers and 11 fewer RBIs.
Hays batted .250/.306/.413/.719 with 35 doubles, two triples, 16 homers, 66 runs and 60 RBIs. His OPS plus of 103 makes him three percent over league average where last year his OPS plus was 107. Hays' walk rate was 5.8 (AL average was 8.0) and his strikeout rate was 19.6 (AL average was 22.2).
Hays' numbers were hurt by his second-half struggles, along with the fact his hard contact rates dropped compared to 2021. The moving back of the left-field wall didn't help the cause either.
He went from hitting a homer at Oriole Park once every 17.9 at-bats in ’21 to once every 42.0 at-bats this year. His home OPS dropped from .852 to .748. But that number was still better than his 2022 road OPS of .691, so his stats cannot be analyzed simply due to the fact it was tougher to hit the ball out at home this season.
“I’m going to finish the season and numbers are almost right where they were last season,” Hays said Wednesday. “So, just looking at it where, if I can be more consistent moving forward and avoid those couple of bad stretches I had. Instead of it being you know two weeks, make it two games and make the adjustments faster. If I can do that, all the numbers would be higher and we’d be happy.
“Something to take into account this year is I’m a right-handed hitter who hits a lot of his homers pull-side and we moved the wall back 30 feet. You are going to lose some home runs. I have 16 now and last year had 22. If I had five or six more home runs, my OPS could be the same. My average is the same, strikeouts too, and I have more walks this year, although not by a lot. Hit more doubles. The power numbers were about what they were in the past. I think my expected home runs this year was 23. About where I was at last year.”
In the first half Hays batted .270/.325/.454/.779 and in the second half he hit .220/.276/.349/.626.
His average exit velocity, in the bottom 38 percent of MLB in 2021 was in the bottom 25 percent this year going from 88.8 to 87.7 mph. His barrel percentage dropped from 9.1 to 5.2. And the stats show he chased more pitches. When you consider all of this, it is almost a surprise his OPS plus was as close to his mark last year as it was.
From 2017-2021, Hays posted an OPS of .761 and in that span his OPS plus was 104. His OPS plus this year, again, was 103 from an OPS of .719. That looks a bit better when we realize how much offense was down around the league this year and the average AL OPS in 2022 was .701.
Captain Obvious says Hays' second half was not what the club needs and everyone knows that. But I think his offense is going to look more like it did for most of his career next season, than it did for about three months this year. The solid defense, plus speed and big arm is still there. He’s a defensive weapon for the club in the expanded left field.
Hays is arbitration-eligible now for the first time in his career and he still has three years of team control remaining. For me he remains a key piece of the O’s future.