Austin Hays (BAL): 2-5, 2B, R, 3 RBI.
If there was an award for the most surprising performance of any American League hitter in the first half, Austin Hays would be in the running. With Cedric Mullins having been hurt for a large chunk of the first half, Hays stepped up in a significant way to fill the hole left by the injured center fielder and leadoff man. If the all-star selection was not fan-dependant, Hays may have earned himself a starting role.
On Monday, Hays reached base twice on a base hit and a double and knocked in three runs. His two-run single in the second off Brian Williamson left Hays’ bat at 102.9 mph. Hays has collected a handful of home runs this season, but when he has been most effective it has been when he has slapped the ball around the field.
The left fielder has blown away expectations this season. Much of that can be owed to him barreling and hitting the ball harder more often. At the same time, his BABIP (.397) is in a position that would indicate his numbers are unsustainable. Sure, Luiz Arraez’s BABIP is sitting at .412 and few doubt him, but one does not just become Arraez overnight. If you can find a good deal, it could end up being the right move to sell high on Hays before the second half.
Let’s see how the other hitters did Monday:
Spencer Steer (CIN): 3-3, HR, R, 3 RBI, BB.
The Reds lost again on Monday night, but Spencer Steer had another big night for himself. Between his RBI single and two-run homer, Steer knocked in all three of Cinnicinati’s runs against the Orioles. The first baseman is hitting the ball hard and walking at a decent rate. After Monday he is slashing .282/.366/.493 with 33 extra-base hits, including 12 home runs.
Michael Harris II (ATL): 3-3, 2B, R.
It is safe to say that Michael Harris II is back to himself after a rocky start to the season. His fifth-inning single off Sonny Gray left the bat at 104 mph. Harris is 13 for 28 over the last week and has slashed .340/.374/.557 over the last month. If you’re lucky, you bought low on him during his early struggles and if you’re prudent, you held onto the young outfielder.
Julio Rodríguez (SEA): 3-4, R, RBI, BB, SB.
Similar to Harris, Julio Rodríguez started the 2023 season amidst a bit of a sophomore slump. Thankfully for Seattle, J-Rod seems like he’s finally easing out of it. The outfielder’s multi-hit game on Monday saw him get a hold of a couple of pitches from Trevor Williams for some hard-hit base hits. He is now slashing .291/.333/.465 over the last 30 games.
Lane Thomas (WSH): 2-5, 2B, HR, R, 2 RBI.
Lane Thomas has been showing clear signs of improvement throughout the first half. He is hitting the ball a bit harder and has one of the best batting averages and slugging percentages in the National League. On Monday, his home run off of Luis Castillo left his bat at 106.4 mph. Some of these improvements are sustainable, but the overall results just don’t seem like production he will keep up for reasons similar to those of Hays and his BABIP. The chances are slim that Thomas will ultimately finish the season as one of the league leaders in OPS.
Dominic Smith (WSH): 2-3, HR, R, RBI, BB.
Since his stellar 2020 season, not much has gone right for Dominic Smith. On Monday night, however, almost everything went right for the first baseman. The former first-round pick’s exit velocities have plummeted since his career year but has shown solid improvement in at least two areas. His walk rate has risen and his strikeout rate has dropped to the point that he ranks in the 88th percentile in the latter category.
Joey Gallo (MIN): 1-3, HR, R, RBI, BB.
When it comes to OPS, Joey Gallo has been one of the best producers on the Twins. He is still only batting .185, but the point is that pre-2022 Gallo is back: or at least some semblance of him. On Monday, he took Spencer Strider deep to dead center for the Twins’ only run of the day. The outfielder turned around a 97 mph heater with an exit velocity of 103 mph.
Andy Ibáñez (DET): 2-4, HR, R, 3 RBI.
It feels like whenever the Tigers’ offense has a big night, which is somewhat rare, Andy Ibáñez is right in the middle of it. Hitting out of the three-hole on Monday, Ibanez did what pretty much any third hitter would do and hit a three-run home run. His blast put Detroit on top for the rest of the night. It came in the third inning against Andrew Heaney and left his bat at 106.5 mph.