Ke’Bryan Hayes Must Be More Than a Glove

2-12-23 – By Gary Morgan – @garymo2007 on Twitter

It’s time for Ke’Bryan Hayes to emerge, and regardless of the injuries he’s suffered, the adjustments he’s struggled to implement due to them or any other factor, for this team to truly improve, Hayes needs to be one of the more noticeable figures leading the charge.

We all know what he is defensively, a Gold Glove candidate, clear cut, every time he’s healthy enough to play 3/4 of a season. We’ve seen it, we know it, we don’t have to guess anymore.

With the bat, it’s been a much more difficult journey.

Most fans first really saw Ke’Bryan when he made his debut during 2020, and what a debut it was. In 24 games he put up a .376 batting average and an OPS of 1.124. Not only were these numbers incredible for a Major League rookie, they were incredible for Ke’Bryan Hayes, who had always been a good hitter, but not anywhere close to that level of production.

It probably set a false expectation with the fan base to a degree but at the same time just knowing that was in there, well, it makes you feel like it could be unlocked doesn’t it?

Think back to that incredible stretch Josh Bell had with the Pirates back in 2019. He was truly remarkable, for a while there he was drawing national comparisons to names like Mantle, and Murray. He was hitting homeruns that made Pirates fans call back on Stargell. And then he didn’t.

We knew it was in there, so did Josh, but he was never really able to quite get back to swinging the bat near that level of excellence.

Hayes did it for a much shorter period of time, and with admittedly less gaudy power.

He picked up right where he left off in 2021. Drilling a homerun on opening day and then injuring his wrist in a freak incident sliding back into first base on a pickoff attempt.

He’d return in 2021, but not look anywhere near like the Hayes we’d watched play in that 2020 spurt.

Soft tissue injuries especially to the wrists can be devastating for hitters. For Ke’ it almost entirely took away his ability to pull baseballs with any authority. Robbing him of the gap power he always had, and making him every bit a one dimensional hitter. He still got on base but he was rendered an average MLB hitter, and that’s if I feel like being kind.

His defense didn’t suffer.

Entering 2022, we were told the wrist was no longer an issue, he’d taken the offseason to get right there and let it heal, but he struggled to drop some of the bad habit adjustments he’d made in order to deal with his new reality not being capable of really pulling a ball.

By the time he started turning on the baseball a bit more, boom, back injury. It would linger all season long, even causing him to take more games off down the stretch than he or the team would like.

Again, the defense didn’t suffer.

2023 will now be the third full season since his debut in 2020 and the third year in a row we as fans, and the Pirates as a coaching staff are hoping and praying a healthy Hayes will emerge.

That’s been elusive to say the least. In fact, had the Pirates not extended him when they did, we might be talking much more about some prospects who could out hit him and potentially steal the job from him.

For the Pirates to really improve, they need the man they chose to give their richest contract to, to prove it was the right call.

It’s not crippling money, really isn’t, but even so, when you as an organization feel that strongly, well, you want them to be right. I can make an argument that defensively he makes up for it, but as much as baseball has changed, you still need bats at the corners.

If you want a reason for optimism, and I bet you do, here it is.

He’s still hitting the baseball hard. What he needs to do is get back to hitting the ball hard to all fields, and especially the gaps.

That’s the type of hitter he’s always been, and that’s the type of hitter the Pirates need him to be.

When I make my lineup, and I’m speaking only for myself here, I honestly can’t scratch his name on the card before the 6th spot. If Hayes gets going, man does it lengthen this lineup. He’s such a swing man for this whole thing.

If Hayes hits like even an above average player, say top half of all third basemen, this team will do some damage on offense. If he doesn’t, you really do start wondering where you can really “hide” his bat.

That’s not a thought you want to have with someone you’ve paid into being a permanent feature. There are more bats coming, and if one day we look at the lineup and a lock down third baseman with a .260 AVG, 8-10 HR, 20 or so Doubles, 15-20 stolen bases and an OPS in the high .600’s is your biggest issue, hey, you’ll take it, but you’d much prefer feeling you can praise the player, as opposed to the ratty glove he refuses to replace.

Hayes is reportedly fully healthy. Another year removed from the wrist injury, a full off season removed from the lower back issues, and he’s spent time with Frank Thomas and Prince Fielder this off season too, gee, I wonder what he might be trying to unlock.

I can honestly tell you, there isn’t another human being I’d prefer in the field at third base. By just about any measurable statistic, he’s the best. Nobody can touch his transition speed from glove to hand, his accuracy and range are unmatched. Not even Arenado.

All that said, he himself has made the spectacular in the field look so routine there is simply no way to avoid focusing on what he doesn’t do at the plate.

If you watched Hayes play in the minors, you know 2020 is the outlier, and you know it far exceeded what you expected him to do at any one point in the Bigs. Fact is though, he did it, and now it’s up to him to evolve into the hitter he can be consistently at this level.

One thing is clear, the Pirates brought in enough thump that he’s not just going to get handed the 3 or 4 spot based on reputation and paystub, not for long anyway.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: