Despite not starting a game during the Orioles' 4-game series in the Bronx this week, Austin Hays was announced as an All-Star starter in place of the injured Aaron Judge and Mike Trout. It is the second time in three years that the Orioles have had an All-Star starter replace Mike Trout, with Cedric Mullins earning the honor in 2021. In '21, Mullins was the clear replacement for Trout as he had a career year and was clearly one of the three best outfielders in the American League at the All-Star break. This year, however, there is more controversy and surprise surrounding the decision to allow Hays to start in Seattle for his first career All-Star appearance.
The biggest factor working in Hays' favor is his .312 batting average which is one of the best in all of baseball and he has a real chance of winning the American League batting title if he continues to hit well in the second half. However, according to Fangraphs, Hays has the eighth best WAR of any outfielder in the American League and seventh best of healthy outfielders with just barely half the fWAR of White Sox outfielder Luis Robert who will not earn the start. Did Hays deserve the All-Star start or was this an erroneous decision to start a player with a high batting average on a winning team over more deserving players such as Robert or Kyle Tucker?
Does Austin Hays deserve to get the start in the All Star Game?
As I mentioned, Austin Hays has had a strong season offensively with a .312/.352/.491 slash line and a 134 OPS+. His ability to hit for a high average and hit for power makes him an offensive asset for the O's and a player that the team has dearly missed during his brief absence. The contact/power combination makes up for his below average walk rate as he is a well above-average hitter. He is also a much-needed reliable right-handed bat for an Orioles team that relies heavily on lefties and switch hitters who hit better from the left side. His arm strength also helps the Orioles as he needs to man the massive Camden Yards left field most games.
Despite his arm strength and unique ability to play left field in Camden Yards, Hays has negative defensive value according to Fangraphs. His arm strength has diminished some this season compared to years past which has hurt his defensive metrics. However, his range and ability to limit errors and foolish mistakes has improved compared to years past. He has saved 2.5 runs above average with his range and has an ultimate zone rating of 2.6. All in all, his defense has been fine this season but not necessarily a strength.
As a hitter, a lot of the peripherals suggest that he has had quite a bit of luck. With a .387 BABIP, many suggest that he will regress to the means and may struggle in the second half. Regardless of how he fares in the second half, the question at hand is if he is one of the three best healthy American League outfielders based on what he did in the first half. Despite the regression, Hays still has one of the strongest arms in baseball as he ranks in the 89th percentile for arm strength. His other defensive metrics such as outs above average and outfielder jump rank poorly according to Baseball Savant.
Offensively, all the peripherals suggest that Hays makes good contact most of the time. He ranks in the 78th percentile for expected slugging percentage and is close to the 70th percentile in average exit velocity, maximum exit velocity, barrel percentage, and sprint speed. Hitting the ball consistently well was one of the main strengths for Hays as a prospect and he has proven that he is capable of doing so at a high level in the majors. Ultimately, the biggest strengths for Hays has been his consistency and ability to reliably hit the ball well to all fields. His biggest weakness is his defense and lack of being outstanding in any one category outside of arm strength and batting average. Now let's look at the player most people consider the biggest snub in Luis Robert.
The former Rookie of the Year runner up in 2020, Robert has had a quietly outstanding start to his big league career in Chicago. Robert will be the number one seed in the Home Run Derby on Monday with 25 home runs in the first half. Similar to Hays, Robert has had a great first half with a .272/.333/.569 slash line with a 143 OPS+. Pure power has been Robert's biggest strength this season with 25 home runs and 47 extra base hits.
His .569 average gives him an extremely impressive .297 Isolated power which is his slugging percentage minus batting average. Also similar to Hays, Robert has a below average walk rate but makes up for it by consistently making strong contact and making it count when he makes contact. Injuries have derailed Robert in his young career as he is 12 games away from a career-high but has clearly made the most of his health this year.
Defensively, Robert has had an impressive season in the outfield as he patrols center field for the White Sox. Fangraphs gives his defense an overall 5.6 rating which is seven points better than Hays. His range and ability to patrol center field has given him eight outs above average defensively as he has also saved 8 runs above average with a 2.9 Ultimate Zone Rating. His health has also clearly improved his defense from previous seasons as he can freely patrol center field without injuries hampering him.
The peripherals on Baseball Savant also clearly favor Robert over Hays. Other than arm strength, Hays did not rank in the 80th percentile or better in any category. Robert ranks in 80th percentile or better in six categories: outs above average, expected slugging percentage, barrel percentage, maximum exit velocity, expected weighted on base average, and sprint speed. On the opposite end, he ranks in the bottom 16 percent in strikeout percentage, walk percentage, whiff percentage, and chase rate. As I said Hays' biggest strengths are his ability to hit for average and power and his arm strength with his weaknesses being his defense and plate discipline.
Robert is a much better power hitter than Hays and plays much better defense. Robert's biggest weakness is his plate discipline which is often true for hitters with as much power as him. However, Robert does more things very well than Hays and has been just a better pure player offensively and defensively this season. Hays has had a great season but clearly Robert deserved this honor more than him. That being said, this is still a great honor for Austin and it will be great to watch an Oriole start the All-Star Game, especially since Adley Rutschman won't like many thought he would.
As I said, Robert clearly deserved to earn the start instead of Hays. Other than him, players like Kyle Tucker and Leody Tavares have better first half's according to Fangraphs but it is close enough that I will not make an argument for either of them ahead of Austin. As an Orioles fan and writer, it is tough to say that one of our guys does not deserve an honor he earned. However, for the sake of fairness it is clear that MLB got this wrong, whether it is Dusty Baker's decision or the commissioner's office.