Farm Report

Keston Hiura (#1 Prospect): Hope vs. Hype

Milwaukee Brewer Fans everywhere are stirring about Keston Hiura, 22-year-old second baseman from UC-Irvine. After being drafted ninth overall in the 2017 Amateur Draft, the fire was lit. Expectations have run high and his legend has grown to epic proportions in even casual Brewer circles. It seems that many fans forget he is very young and still playing Double-A ball… based on the hype surrounding the young phenom it is hard to blame them.


Today Brew Maths will analyze Hiura’s statistics from the time he started college through current day in Biloxi. We will isolate his minor league efforts and see if any meaningful trends surface. The aim today will be to separate Hiura Hope from Hiura Hype… using cold, hard stats and lots of pretty graphs:

RAW PRODUCTION

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On-Base Percentage, Secondary Average and ‘Runs/AB’ all follow a very similar trend. While OBP and ‘Runs / AB’ are rather self-explanatory, let’s review what secondary average is:

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SecA measures the sum of extra bases gained on hits, walks and stolen base efficiency. Generally, it accounts for power, plate discipline and speed.

Hiura quickly figured out Big West pitching while at UC-Irvine. We see his on-base percentage rise to a superhuman 0.567 by his Junior Year. His Secondary Average also rises sharply in the third year indicating how his game was becoming more well-rounded. Lastly, if baseball is about winning then runs are the currency of baseball… We see Hiura’s run production peaks in his final year at Irvine (0.241) but then declines to its lowest point last year in AA Biloxi (0.153).

This graph is a very good summary of the Hiura situation in general. On one hand, he is capable of ungodly feats at the plate. On the other, his production has considerably declined as he rises the ranks. It is important to remember that this lag in his stats is expected as he faces progressively better pitching and defenses.

CONTACT

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Again, we see the same exact trend of Hiura peaking in his final year of college and regressing as he progresses through the ranks. Unsurprising. Last year was split pretty evenly between the A+ and AA levels. His cumulative batting average for 2018 was .293 with a .349 BABIP (.375 Career).

Brewers Fans hope that the young star can correct the current regression his stats have been on since being drafted. Time will tell if he can adapt to minor league pitching as quickly as he did to pitching in The Big West.

POWER

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The trend we’ve seen above persists here… but with a silver lining.

His extra-base hit percentage is leveling off at an above-average rate. When you combine this with the fact that his BABIP remains at the elite level, it suggests he is learning how to put harder swings on progressively better pitching. He is not known as a power hitter but uses the entire field well. The fact that he is hitting the ball harder makes his hits more likely to go for extra bases. That is happening despite the fact that he is “swimming up current” into more challenging competition.

RATE STATS

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Hiura’s rate are leveling off in the minor leagues. This is good news as rate stats have been found to be more predictive than most others.

Keston Hiura’s Rate Stats since entering the minors (Rk / A / A+ / AA):

K%:   18.06  /  20.87  /  20.61  /  18.24

BB%:  8.33  /   6.09   /  6.14    /  7.17

Hiura seems to be getting a handle on the minor league pitching that shook him at first. Speaking of which…

It is worth taking a more exclusive look at his minor league stats since they are more relevant to projections. During that time he has played for four teams in The Brewers’ System (Rookie level, A, A+ and AA). He only played in 15 games (72 PA) in his first stint at The Rookie Level so we will not consider that here.

A plot of his major batting statistics since that time:

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While he had a small surge in his ‘A+’ year, these numbers are fairly stable. The most plate appearances (PA) that Hiura had with one team was conveniently at the end of last year with The Shuckers. Let’s take a look at those stats:

2018 Biloxi (AA):

.272 AVG / .339 OBP / .323 BABIP / .416 SLG / .344 wOBA

These numbers on their own are ‘above average’ and far from the mega-stats some fans expect to see. As of now, he is a high quality hitter with a ton of potential who is learning the ropes… not Paul Bunyan.

For perspective, here is what Christian Yelich did over the same timeframe when he was a minor leaguer:

.275 AVG / .359 OBP / .341 BABIP / .504 SLG / .372 wOBA

Not all that different than Hiura’s Biloxi stats (above).

Hiura will have to keep developing his skillset if he hopes to be the star everyone is hoping for but he seems on track. At this time, I would not bet against him… he shows flashes of talent rarely seen in the batter’s box.

SPEED / BASERUNNING

While there is not a lot of data surrounding these attributes, it should be noted that Hiura is not known for his speed. However, he is a proficient base runner who can be counted upon to protect runs.

His numbers as a runner:

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Speed is a somewhat outdated metric but it gets at the heart of a player’s value as a baserunner.

It is calculated using six factors:

  1. Stolen Base Percentage
  2. Stolen Base Attempts / Opportunities
  3. Triples
  4. Double Plays Grounded Into / Opportunities
  5. Runs / On Base
  6. Defensive Position & Range

Fangraphs guidelines for speed stat:

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While stealing bases is not Hiura’s forte, his overall game speed is consistently rated well (i.e. above average in the more recent years).

NOTE: Ultimate Base Running (UBR) is now thought to be a better metric than the ‘speed stat’ but the data is not as widely available since it is relatively new.

FIELDING

The fielding metrics are still evolving. A straightforward fielding percentage (Errors / Attempts) was used as the gold standard for a century. Since Bill James has advanced Sabermetrics into the mainstream, new metrics are evolving all the time. Brew Maths has found ‘Range Factor/9 INN’ to be the most universally useful for evaluating an infielder’s defensive performance.

RF/9 does break down when you try to apply it across positions but it gives one a good idea of where the player stands defensively. For those interested, this link will take you to an online range calculator with a great description of how it works.

In 2017, Orlando Arcia led the entire league in RF/9 at 4.85. Troy Tulowitzki has topped The Majors in this stat five times in the last 12 years.

Hiura’s Fielding Career Minor League Defensive Stats:

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This is fairly reassuring considering that his RF/G is above average and on the rise (over a decent sample size). If you link to the active leaders for range factor at 2B, we see Hiura’s mark of 3.65 would rank #20 amongst active MLB second baseman.

EYE TEST

Here are some links to watch Hiura’s sweet swing as A Shucker:

06/01/2018: Hiura’s first Double-A hit

06/13/2018: Hiura Hits his first HR for Biloxi (and it’s a walk-off!)

10/22/2018: Arizona Fall League vs Glendale Desert Dogs

You don’t have to be a big fan to see that he has a smooth, powerful swing that gets through the strike zone in a hurry. Most of the excitement around Hiura stems from how he handles a bat. It is not just  Brewer Fans that see it either… here is what The Brewer’s California Area Scout, Wynn Pelzer, said about him last year:

“He’s the best college hitter in the country. That’s what he showed all through the spring. It was a pleasure for me as a scout to go watch this guy perform offensively. … He’s a premium bat at a premium position, and he’s going to be valuable for the Brewers down the road.”

CONCLUSIONS

  • Hiura showed an overwhelming amount of talent and immense capacity for growth at UC-Irvine. His third and final year there was so good that it created gargantuan expectations. I mean, just look at the guys career college stats:

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You read that right… In his final year he hit .442 with a .567 OBP!!!

  • While Hiura has shown flashes of his promise and is developing nicely, he is human. It will take him time to appropriately develop into a Major League Bat and to create a sustainable approach. He seems to be well on his way…
  • If we isolate Hiura’s minor league numbers (i.e. the last two years) we see that he is gradually improving across the board. While he is not Ken Griffey Jr, he shows bat speed and reflexes that warrant the hype. Hiura is not an overpowering hitter but seems to be swinging harder over the last year. His initial experience at the ‘Rookie Ball’ level was brief and hard to interpret. If we remove that from the data set, we see how Hiura keeps producing at an “above average” level across the board.
  • Coaches and scouts who have worked closely with Hiura all sing his praises. They echo what most Brewers Fans say and feel about the rising prospect. Some of the reports seem exaggerated but reflect the extremely high ceiling this ‘kid from California’ has.
  • While Hiura looks to be a couple years off from being an everyday Major League Player, he should get some MLB reps this year. As of now, one of the biggest areas of need for The Crew is the middle infield. Barring setbacks, he could be called up as early as the second half of this year.

In the meantime, the entire Milwaukee Brewers Fan Base is watching…

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