ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The question didn’t have anything to do with Austin Hays.
A reporter used manager Brandon Hyde’s pregame media session yesterday to get an opinion on Adley Rutschman receiving the most votes among American League catchers for the All-Star Game. But Hyde was more interested in Hays’ status among the outfielders.
He’d get back to Rutschman shortly. The player who didn’t need hyping.
Told that Hays is 15th in balloting, Hyde immediately responded with, “That’s terrible.”
“We got a campaign going of some sort?” he asked, the tone playful but the disappointment real.
Hays began last night leading the American League with a .320 average and posting a .360 on-base percentage and .515 slugging percentage in 65 games. He had 19 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 65 games.
The streak of multi-hit games grew to five, and the average to .327, after Hays completed a seven-pitch at-bat with a single in the first inning and doubled in the fifth and eighth. His OPS is .893.
What does Hyde see from Hays that’s different from past seasons?
“Just health, he’s healthy,” Hyde said.
“The way he plays left field, especially in our ballpark, he plays Gold Glove defense, also. Leading the league in hitting. He’s getting huge hits for us. The power. He’s not playing banged up right now, and I think that last year he definitely did the second half. And he’s showing you, showing everybody, what kind of player he can be.”
Hays has been steady at the plate, batting .312/.363/.538 in March/April and .310/.344/.471 in May. He was slashing .344/.379/.541 this month before last night’s game.
Miami’s Luís Arraez is the only other player in the majors with an average at .300 or better for each month of the season, with a minimum of 50 plate appearances.
Hays found out from a few people that he led the AL in average. He wasn’t aware of it or keeping track of exact numbers.
“I knew I’ve been hovering around .300 for a while,” he said yesterday. “You get a couple balls to fall, you have a couple two-hit games, you’re going to bump it up a little bit. It’s nice to be in that spot right now, but we’ve got a lot of at-bats left, so I’m not going to get too caught up in it right now.”
The time to celebrate would be after the last regular season game on Oct. 1.
“Anytime you can hit somewhere around the .300 mark, especially with the pitching now, it’s a pretty tough feat to be able to do that,” he said. “To be around that mark right now, getting close to the All-Star break, it’s good. Just shows that I’m having consistent at-bats. I’ve had some good luck, too, with getting some balls to fall. Just try to continue to do what I’ve been doing, stick with it the whole year.”
Analytics are stripping away the importance of batting average, RBIs and a pitcher’s win total. Averages often are ignored until they put a player in a more flattering light. Until it’s done in some sort of historical context.
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson is the only Oriole to win a batting title, when he posted a .316 average in 1966 and won the Triple Crown. Hanser Alberto hit .305 in 2019 and is the only qualifying Oriole in the last 14 years to finish with a .300 average or better.
Melvin Mora batted .340 in 2004 to set the club record, but he was runner-up in the AL to Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki (.372). Miguel Tejada posted a .330 average in 2006 to finish fourth. Twins catcher Joe Mauer was first at .347.
Those moments when average size matters.
“I’m not a guy who walks a whole lot, so for my on-base percentage to be higher, I’m going to have to have a higher average,” Hays said. “That is an important stat for me. I’ve tried to clean up my plate discipline a lot, so I’m walking a little bit more this year, but it’s not enough to be a .350 on-base guy if I’m going to hit .250. For me to get my on-base percentage up so I can score more runs for the team, my average does need to be a little bit higher than what it’s been.
“I think just hitting the ball harder when I am putting it in play has led to a higher average this year, and I think that’s coming from just not chasing as much as being more disciplined in the zone.”
To bring Robinson into the conversation requires going back 57 years.
“I think it just shows how hard it is,” Hays said. “Hanser was riding around that .300 mark and he was really competing for it there toward the end of the season, so I got to watch that. That was fun down the stretch watching him go for that. But it just shows how difficult it is.
“We’ve got a lot of games, a lot of at-bats left, so we’ll see how things go, but I’m in a good spot right now.”