Ke’Bryan Hayes Deserves a Gold Glove, When Will He Finally Get It?


Ke’Bryan Hayes fields a ball during his elite 2022 defensive season. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Anyone who has at least casually watched the Pirates since 2020, should have noticed the high quality defense of their starting third baseman, Ke’Bryan Hayes. It seems that he produces another highlight reel play every series. Many defensive statistics have also corroborated the simple “eye- test” assessment of Ke’Bryan Hayes, establishing him as an elite defender. Despite having consistently been a top defensive third baseman for the past three years, he has gone without winning The Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

Hayes was drafted by the Pirates as a Compensation Round A pick in 2015. He rose up the prospect ranks, becoming the MLB Pipeline’s 41 ranked prospect in 2020, the year of his MLB debut. His defense was originally ranked as a 65 on the 20-80 scale, which was his best attribute, which is considered above average. In his debut season, he immediately made a noticeable impact on defense. In Outs Above Average (OAA), which is a defensive metric that gives a measure of the amount of outs saved by defensive range, Hayes had 4 runs in just 24 games. For context, the top third baseman that year, Nolan Arenado was worth 6 runs in 48 games, meaning that if Hayes had played as many games as Arenado that season, (which may have been possible if he was not sidelined by Covid at the beginning of the year) he could have had an OAA of 8. 

Arenado would go on to win his 8th Gold Glove award in that 2020 shortened season, but it seemed that the then 29-year old Arenado finally had legitimate competition for the Gold Glove, and that his reign had an end in sight.

If you look at the highlight reel, and the OAA leaderboard, Ke’Bryan Hayes was the best NL third baseman, and maybe one of the best defensive players, regardless of position during his rookie 2021 season. Other cumulative advanced defensive stats like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), and Runs Above Average (RAA), also back this up. Despite once again playing less games than his competitors, this time due to injury, Hayes was still able to make one of the biggest impacts defensively in the entire league. Once again however, Nolan Arenado would receive the Gold Glove. It seemed Arenado was barely holding on, and that one healthy season from Hayes would end his reign. The fact that Hayes went on to win the Fielding Bible award, a more advanced-statistics driven award than the Gold Glove that season, may be further contributed to this feeling.

In 2022, Hayes had a mostly healthy season, qualifying for the batting title the first time in his career, which also allowed him to put up the best defensive numbers of his career. He would go on to be a finalist for the Gold Glove awards that year, along with Ryan McMahon, and Nolan Arenado. This was his season to go home with gold, but the award was once again given to Nolan Arenado, who would also receive the platinum glove, as the best defender, regardless of position in the National League.

In a fair world, the best defensive third baseman would receive the most prestigious award for his historic performance, but that was not the case in 2022. Ke’Bryan Hayes has been the best defensive third baseman for the past 3 years, but Arenado’s legacy has allowed him to win the award over Hayes. Of course, Arenado is, obviously, one of the greatest defensive third baseman of all time, and has still been great defensively recently. It does seem that his legacy has carried him to at least one Gold Glove that should have gone to Hayes, however. 

This puts the third base position at an interesting crossroads for 2023. With the banning of the shift, third baseman will spend more time actually playing third base, which is good for Arenado, who is less rangy than Hayes. Despite this, another dominant season in the field could sway the Gold Glove voters, who are managers and coaches from around the league. Hayes will be helped by the Sabr Defensive Index (SDI), which is another defensive metric, and is the one that factors into Gold Glove selection. It accounts for 25% of the selection criteria, while 75% goes to the player manager voting. In 2022, Hayes was the clear leader in NL third Base SDI, which means that it was the manager and coach voting that went against him. Perhaps this is due to his struggles on offense, even though offense is officially not factored in.

As of June 1st 2023, Ke’Bryan Hayes is atop the OAA leaderboards for third baseman, and is having a great defensive season, by all measures. Hayes and the Pirates recently swept Arenado’s Cardinals last week at PNC, where Hayes had a great offensive showing, with a few solid defensive plays. Hayes convincingly won his head to head matchup with Arenado by turning some slick double plays, and snagging a line drive.