On the heels of being swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Milwaukee Brewers need for offense has never been more apparent.
Over the three games against the Dodgers, Milwaukee pushed across just three runs and had multiple prolonged offensive lulls.
On Tuesday night, Bobby Miller retired 18 straight Brewers after giving up his lone earned run. Wednesday, the Crew had three total hits. And Thursday night, their 1-7 hitters finished the day 2-24 as shortstop Willy Adames continued his struggles at the plate, going 0-4 with four strikeouts.
Meanwhile, I wonder what was Keston Hiura doing during that time in AAA Nashville?
— Jake Reetz (@jajareetz) August 18, 2023
He hammered three homers and totaled five RBIs while the Brewers scored three total runs in that same period.
Why He Got Sent Down
To truly feel out why Hiura deserves a spot on this first-place (yes, we double checked) Brewers roster, we need to look back at what caused him to be sent down in the first place. In 2022, Hiura struggled mightily against LHP, which was seen as his primary role as he split time in the field with lefty Rowdy Tellez. Or, when he was used as a pinch hitter where he struggled with just one hit in 14 plate appearances
His slash line against lefties in 2022 was .188/.275/.344/.619, which is not ideal. However, the Brewers as a whole this year are slashing .216/.306/.334/.639 against lefty starters this season. So, clearly, he wouldn’t drag those numbers down too far.
While it may have made sense to send Hiura down due to his struggles against lefties, his wRC+ of 143 against righties would be right on par with Christian Yelich’s 145 against righties this year. The Brewers would likely take that as they currently rank 28th out of 30 teams with a team wRC+ of 86 against RHP.
The other common knock on Hiura is his inability in the field. Hiura spent a majority of his time at UC Irvine as a DH due to an elbow injury sidelined him from defensive duties, and he has never fully settled in at 1B or 2B.
However, at AAA Nashville, Hiura has split starts equally between 1B and LF. During the 430+ innings at those positions, he has committed just one error in 251 chances.
Why This Time is “Different”
Now, there is certainly a sentiment that Hiura has simply had too many chances to translate his incredible minor league numbers to the Major League level. The argument is that Keston has destroyed minor league pitching before coming to Milwaukee and floundering.
That is simply just untrue.
Keston’s only record of prolonged minor league success occurred in 2019 prior to his initial call-up. In those 57 games with then-Brewers affiliate AAA San Antonio, Hiura slashed .329/.407/.681/1.088 before being a pillar of the 2019 team’s lineup. In case you forgot how great he was, he finished the year with a wRC+ of 139 and totaled 2.4 WAR in just 84 games played.
Those 57 games in 2019 are the only time that Hiura has shown prolonged success in AAA. That is, before this season.
Perhaps the biggest difference in Hiura’s game that he’s shown all season long in Nashville is his ability to hit both righties and lefties over a prolonged period of time. He has regained his stroke against lefties and is slashing .333/.411/.667/1.078 in 90 plate appearances against them while still attacking righties at a .304/.394/.532/.926 clip in 236 plate appearances against them.
Take out the games in June where he was recovering from a PCL injury, and those numbers jump even higher.
Who to Bump
The difficult decision to make in regards to Hiura being brought up resides primarily in whose spot he should take. He is not currently on the 40-man roster, so he would have to bump someone there. Also, players like Rowdy Tellez, Jesse Winker, and even Bryce Perkins threaten spots on the 26-man roster when they return from their respective rehab stints and IL stays.
Taking a shot on Keston would likely require Matt Arnold and company to make some difficult decisions now that trade deadline acquisitions Carlos Santana and Mark Canha joined the team and will likely get chances to ride out the rest of the regular season. This could spell trouble for someone like Brian Anderson, who has looked lost at the plate after a solid start to the season.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Brewers are desperately trying to weather the storm until the September roster expansion where Hiura could be inserted to give this lineup a much-needed jolt.
Hopefully, that won’t be too late.