2020 Underachiever Series Part Three: Austin Meadows and Keston Hiura

by Mickey Bell

We looked at Gleyber Torres in part one and Cody Bellinger and Yordan Alvarez in part two. Future articles will discuss the remaining players in the above chart.

Austin Meadows – OF – Tampa Bay Rays
Age: 25
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 39
2020 final rank: 707
2021 ADP: 84

After having 33 HR, 12 steals, and a 0.291 average in 2019, Meadows ended the 2020 season with a 0.205 average and 0.667 OPS in just 36 games. After being a StatCast standout in his breakout season, his K% and Hard% both dropped by about 10%. He started the season late due to having COVID-19, and lingering symptoms might have led to some of his struggles. He also suffered an oblique strain on September 18 that cut his regular season short. This did not seem to contribute to his previous regular season performance because he immediately went on the IL but could have been a factor in his poor postseason (0.425 OPS).

Whatever the reason, Meadows’s launch angle increased drastically in 2020 by 8 degrees to a whopping 24.4. This resulted in far too many lazy fly balls for outfielders to gobble up. This difference is quite visible in his Baseball Savant “radial charts” seen below as the extra base hits are few and far between.

Meadows hit fly balls in 54% of his batted ball outcomes and most resulted in easy outs. When you combine that with an atrocious K% of 32.9%, it is no wonder Meadows struggled.

Facing lefties exacerbated all his struggles. After a very respectable 0.837 OPS in 2019, he had a 0.391 OPS against lefties in 41 PA (plate appearances). In terms of pitch location (see image below), he struggled with pitches up and in and anywhere outside. You could definitely see how this could play into the hands of lefty pitchers pounding fastballs up and in and throwing their breaking stuff down and away.

Conclusion

While you are getting a 3 to 4 round discount on a player with a bona fide star season under his belt, his worrisome underlying numbers and platoon struggles might require not just health (as in the case of Alvarez) but actual swing and approach adjustments and those are less guaranteed.

Keston Hiura – 2B – Milwaukee Brewers
Age: 24
2020 Yahoo preseason rank: 43
2020 final rank: 137
2021 ADP: 69

Hiura’s BABIP dropped from 0.402 in 2019 to 0.273 in 2020. His K% jumped from an already troubling 30.7% to 34.6%. While his counting stats ended up respectable (hence the final ranking of 137), his average dropped from 0.303 to 0.212.

Plate Discipline

Too many swings and misses, particularly on high fastballs in the strike zone, led to Hiura’s struggles. In 2020, Hiura’s zone contact percentage (Z-contact%) dropped nine points from 76.9% to 67.9%, worst in the league by over 4 points. Only Luis Robert had a worse SwStr% among qualifying batters. As seen below, pitches in the strike zone up and in especially troubled Hiura.

Batted Ball Stats

On the rare occasions Hiura did make contact, he did so with less authority than in 2019. His Hard% on Fangraphs dropped fifteen points and his Hard Hit % on Baseball Savant dropped about 9 points. His average exit velocity dropped four MPH to a pedestrian 87.4.

Almost more worryingly, there was no late season adjustment leading to better results. In September and October, his K% jumped even higher to 37.4% and his OPS dropped to just 0.667.

Edit: In Matt Williams’s excellent #2021PlayerBreakdowns series on Twitter, he noted Hiura did in fact make a batting stance adjustment but the jury is still out on if it made a big difference. The offseason might help him to solidify that change and see results from it.

Conclusion

Going into 2020, I expected Hiura’s BABIP to go down but I also thought an improvement in his K% would somewhat offset that. But instead, pitchers exposed his weakness even further and Hiura struggled to adjust. Want another sneaky reason to fade Hiura? He played 59 of 60 games last year and while staying healthy is positive, it also means he gets the dreaded “accumulator” tag. If he had missed any time, he does not come close to that decent 137th overall rank and we would be looking at him in an even worse light. Despite these concerns, Hiura’s ADP has only dropped from 43 to a not so nice 69. While Hiura seemingly has a safe counting stats floor (barring injury), the risk outweighs the reward, and I will look in another direction at 2B in 2021.

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