Good as gold?: Pirates ‘spoiled’ by 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes making spectacular plays
After Ke’Bryan Hayes missed the first two months of the season last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates understood just how valuable his presence was on the field. He won the Fielding Bible Award as baseball’s best player at his position but didn’t play enough innings to qualify for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
So Hayes set a modest goal before signing a club-record contract, vowing to be available for every game at third base this season. And he’s played in a team-high 97 of the first 106 games so far, a rate of 91.5%.
Where Hayes has distinguished himself with his defense — he leads all third baseman with 16 defensive runs saved, which ranks second among all position players — he also has become a centerpiece of the Pirates’ offense.
Even as he searches for consistency at the plate — batting a pedestrian .247 — Hayes leads the team in hits (91) and doubles (18), is tied for the lead in triples (three), ranks second in on-base percentage (.321) and third in RBIs (32) and has a team-best 3.0 Wins Above Replacement.
It’s no wonder the Pirates banked on the 25-year-old as a cornerstone for the franchise rebuild by signing him to an eight-year, $70 million contract in April, surpassing the six-year, $60 million contract Jason Kendall signed in 2000.
That made Hayes the face of the franchise, whether he was ready or not.
“I’m not that type of person to be like, ‘This is my team,’” Hayes said late last month. “It was really cool to sign a contract, to be able to stay here, to be in their future plans and stuff like that. It makes me want to work harder and continue to try to be a better leader each and every day — not even be a better leader, but to try to get better at something every day and elevate my game to help the team.”
The many ways Hayes helps the Pirates were showcased in the three-game sweep of the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park. He had three RBIs in the 8-7 walk-off win Wednesday night, roping a two-run single with a 109-mph exit velocity to right field to ignite a rally after the Pirates fell behind by four runs and turning a double play to end the Brewers’ fifth-inning scoring threat.
When Hayes makes the spectacular play appear routine so often, it raises eyebrows when he makes an error, no matter the degree of difficulty. That Hayes has 11 errors through 97 games (including one in Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Baltimore Orioles) after committing only three errors in 96 games last season is a sign that he’s still human. Hayes later fielded a grounder with the bases loaded and threw a Baltimore runner out at home plate to save a run.
The error count and Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals might be the only things standing in the way of Hayes winning his first Gold Glove in the majors after earning three in the minors. A nine-time Gold Glove winner, seven-time All-Star and five-time Platinum Glove winner, Arenado is regarded as the game’s best third baseman.
Hayes could change that, now that he’s eligible.
Rawlings requires that all infielders and outfielders have played at least 713 innings through the first 141 games to qualify for the award. After spending 60 days in April and May on the injured list with a left hand/wrist injury, Hayes only played 766 1/3 innings all season. This year, he had reached the Rawlings requirement by the All-Star break, and had played 823 2/3 innings through Friday’s game at Baltimore.
“One of my main goals this year was to try to be available for every game. So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Hayes said. “It’s pretty cool that I’m eligible for it. It gives me a little more motivation to keep going and keep trying to make plays for my teammates and whoever’s pitching.”
The play Hayes made in the ninth inning of Thursday’s 5-4 win over the Brewers had even Pirates manager Derek Shelton in disbelief.
Young Hayes is the ???? to this inning-ending double play!
— AT&T SportsNet™ PIT (@ATTSportsNetPIT) August 4, 2022
With the game tied, the Brewers had the bases loaded when Tyrone Taylor hit a sharp grounder down the third base line. Not only did Hayes make a spectacular backhand stab to prevent an extra-base hit and save two or three runs from scoring, he also touched third base and fired a throw across the infield for an inning-ending double play.
“The play that Ke’ made, man, it’s unbelievable,” Shelton said. “We get spoiled. We see maybe the best defender on the planet almost every night. This guy’s special.
“That situation of the game, to make that play on that ball that’s that hard hit and have the wherewithal to step on the bag and make a strong throw, there’s a lot of defining moments, but that play won the game for us. I don’t think he ever gets too high or too low but a play of that magnitude at that time, I think everybody in the ballpark was like, ‘Holy cow. That’s unbelievable.’”
The superlatives didn’t stop with Shelton.
Reliever Colin Holderman thought the worst off the bat, worried that he had just surrendered the lead in only his second appearance with the Pirates since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis after being acquired from the New York Mets in the Daniel Vogelbach trade.
“Ke’Bryan really saved me there, and that’s just normal for him. That’s just what he does. He made it look easy, and I couldn’t be more thankful,” Holderman said. “His pulse doesn’t change too much in that situation. That’s why he’s so good in those situations. He is an elite defender, an elite baseball player, and he doesn’t get too high or too low. That’s why he’s going to be consistent for a long time.”
At first, Michael Chavis couldn’t comprehend what he was seeing, knowing how hard it is to handle a 94-mph grounder at the hot corner. Once Hayes got his glove on the ball, Chavis covered first base.
“As soon as I turn, I see him stepping on the bag and making a throw,” Chavis said. “Again, it’s Ke’Bryan, bro, so I mean I just have to stand there and catch the ball. It’s going to hit me in the chest. Like, he takes care of everything and it’s fun to watch.”
Bligh Madris, an outfielder who started playing first base last month, was amazed at a play Hayes made in Wednesday’s win. With runners at second and third, Hayes fielded a ball at third and calmly checked the runner at second base before throwing to first to end the eighth inning.
“Ke’Bryan literally knocks down everything over there and puts a glove on it,” Madris said. “That just shows how quick he can read a situation. You’ve got to be ready for that stuff. You can’t assume where the ball is going. You’ve got to be ready for whatever.”
Hayes is ready for whatever comes his way, especially at third base.
“I expect myself to make every play, especially if I can get a glove on it,” Hayes said. “So I was lucky enough to make the play and it was a good play.”
One that might prove to be as good as gold.