The Orioles need Austin Hays to be the leader we know he can be

The Orioles need Austin Hays now more than ever
The Orioles need Austin Hays now more than ever / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

Austin Hays has once again gotten off to a hot start on Baltimore. Hays has worked his way up in a very talented lineup and has entrenched himself as one of the Orioles best hitters so far this season. With the injury to Cedric Mullins, Hays has become even more valuable to the team. Birds fans are cautiously optimistic that Hays can reach his potential and become a true leader.

Hays either leads the team or is near the top in pretty much every major offensive category. He is sixth on the team in runs (27), tied for fifth in homeruns (6) and RBI's (23), tied for third in OBP (.506), second in hits (56), doubles (13) and triples (2), and Hays leads the team in batting average (.311), slugging percentage (.506) and OPS (.860). Being a top hitter on the team with the second-best record in baseball means you're doing pretty well.

Here's the reason fans are cautious of these numbers. Hays' 2023 stats are almost identical to his 2022 stats through May. Through May of 2022 Hays had a .297/.365/.453 slash line with 23 run, 51 hits, 12 doubles, zero triples, five homeruns and 22 RBI's. As great as that was last season, Hays fell off after May. It appears that Hays was swinging for the fences starting in June as he hit six homeruns that month alone but his batting average and OBP fell off significantly. He greatly struggled in July and August with a batting average just north of the Mendoza line and only four homeruns combined in those two months. Hays did rebound in September and posted about career average numbers for the month.

Orioles outfielder Austin Hays needs to take a step forward in 2023

Through all of Hays' offensive ups and downs, he has always been a top tier defender. Hays looked like the center fielder of the future when he came up at the end of the 2019 season while Mullins struggled. Hays had his own struggles in 2020 and Mullins was able to retake the position that Adam Jones had relinquished to him.

Starting in 2021, Hays became the teams primary left fielder and has shined starting alongside Mullins. Left field became even more valuable to the Orioles in 2022 when the team pushed the left field wall back approximately 30 feet and raised it to 13 feet tall. Left field in Camden Yards became a position that needed a top tier outfielder.

Hays, for his career, is absolutely in that top tier. Hays has a career .994 fielding percentage, having only made five errors in 792 chances in the outfield. For comparison, Willie Mays had a career .981 fielding percentage. In fairness, Mays did play 23 seasons and had a few more chances than Hays has had to this point.

Hays also has a very strong arm and has developed a reputation as a person that players should not try to take an extra base on. He has 25 career outfield assists, including four already this season. Per Baseball Savant, Hays has the 15th best arm among all outfielders in the MLB today and ranks first overall among left fielders. Hays may not be as flashy as Mullins, but he certainly is capable of playing a great center field while Mullins is out.

With Mullins out, Hays has become even more important to the Orioles, both as a player and a leader. Hays has the third longest tenure on the Orioles behind only Santander and Mullins. He will be leaned on now more than ever and has shown no signs of slowing down this season. With his recent promotion in the lineup, even before Mullins got injured, he could help carry this team through the loss of Mullins. Hays' numbers so far this season speak for themselves, and if he can continue at this level, there is no reason he can't be one of several players representing the Birds in this year's All-Star game. Is this the year that Hays puts it all together for the entire season?