The man can’t hit.
At least, he hasn’t been able to hit effectively for the better part of the last two seasons. The luster continues to fade from Keston Hiura’s once-promising outlook at the big league level, and today he was demoted back to the minors for the second time in 2021.
INF Keston Hiura has been optioned to Triple-A Nashville pic.twitter.com/jNxoIxTQ6l— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) June 7, 2021
Hiura debuted with a bang in 2019, batting .303/.368/.570 with 19 home runs and nine steals across 84 games, quickly asserting himself as one of the team’s top offensive players and someone who looked like he was going to be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come. But that 138 OPS+ masked a 30.8% strikeout rate, and when the whiffs increased and his .402 BABIP fell back down to earth during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, his batting line fell off sharply. Hiura still led the team with 13 homers in 59 games last season, but he also led the National League with 85 punchouts and came in with a .212/.297/.410 slash for a well below-average 87 OPS+.
Hiura was tasked with both bouncing back at the plate and learning the new position of first base in 2021, and thus far he has not been up to either one of those challenges. He has been charged with three errors and graded at -1 Defensive Runs Saved so far at the cold corner while his struggles at the plate have only intensified. Hiura is routinely swinging through hittable pitches in the middle of the strike zone; among players with 100 plate appearances this season, his zone contact rate of 59.1% is the lowest in MLB by 8 percentage points, and among that same sample his 24.1% swinging-strike rate is the league’s worst by nearly four percentage points. When has made contact, he’s rarely done so with any authority — his .093 ISO and 38.7% hard contact rate (per Statcast) are both the worst marks of his career.
Keston spent a couple weeks down in the minors in May and raked to the tune of a .438/526/.906 slash line and three homers in 38 plate appearances, earning a player of the week award along the way. But again, he did so while posting a 34.2% strikeout rate against Triple-A level pitching. After returning to the Brewers on May 24th, he recorded just two hits, two walks, and 16 strikeouts across his next 33 plate appearances, leading to this second demotion. It seems likely that this may be a longer stint in the minors for Hiura as he searches for some kind of adjustment.
The Brewers have yet to make a corresponding move and with the off day on Monday, and they are unlikely to announce anything until tomorrow before the series opener in Cincinnati. The team does have Dan Vogelbach on the roster, though his 85 OPS+ hardly inspires much confidence. Travis Shaw could see time there, too, but his production has been even worse than Vogelbach’s (69 OPS+). It will be interesting to see if the Brewers wind up promoting a utility player along the lines of Tim Lopes or Jace Peterson, or if they’ll look to more of a corner infielder like Triple-A performers Zach Green or Weston Wilson.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs