First Pitch: The Pirates Are Bad, But Let’s Not Take it Out on Their Best Player

Ke’Bryan Hayes has been praised for his defense since being drafted as a supplemental first rounder out of high school in 2015.

You could chalk that up to initial hype, as not every prospect lives up to their draft scouting grades. I could tell you about how Hayes lived up to the defensive hype in the eyes of scouts — including this writer, who covered him from day one in the minors.

I could also simply point to the stats. This year, Hayes ranks as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball. He ranks first in Defensive Runs Saved (20), third in UZR/150 (5.4), and is second overall in the FanGraphs rankings.

This isn’t new. If you look at the last two seasons, Hayes has 36 defensive runs saved since the start of 2021. That is 13 more than runners up Nolan Arenado and Ryan McMahon.

Nolan Arenado is an amazing defender. So is Ryan McMahon. They both have 23 DRS over the last two seasons. That’s about a win per season saved from their defense alone — and that win is in addition to what the average defender would generate.

Hayes not only has outperformed these two, but has done it with less playing time. He has 1777 innings since the start of 2021 and has averaged almost an extra win per year over Arenado (2355.2 innings) and McMahon (1932 innings).

Even if we go back to 2020, Hayes leads the group. He doesn’t even show up on the qualified leaderboards, because he had one month of playing time in 2020. He added 4 DRS to his total in that month.

Ke’Bryan Hayes has lived up to his defensive hype.

This season, he’s matching pace with Arenado, who is in his age 31 season. Hayes is in his age 25 season, and has been just as good as Arenado since he entered the league.

I could break down the numbers further and find ways for Hayes to improve defensively, to the point where Arenado isn’t in the discussion. I could probably tie in the sunflower seed argument if I wanted, adding a moral high ground to stand upon as I say that the defense we’ve seen from Ke’Bryan Hayes needs some form of improvement.

It does not.

Ke’Bryan Hayes can do whatever he wants on defense.

The sunflower seed play wasn’t good, but it wasn’t bad. It was irrelevant.

In that irrelevant play, we got a chance to see how the mind of Hayes works. As I broke down in my Twitter thread, he’s almost subconsciously multitasking by going to his pocket for seeds. His glove is back on by the time Escobar is rounding third. The runner stopped at first, and Hayes was studying the entire field while he was reloading his sunflower seeds.

The biggest argument I could see being valid is that Hayes should have at least run to third, in the event that Escobar slipped, or the runner at first somehow advanced on a wild throw. My thought is that Hayes could cover that ground before Escobar got up off the ground, or before the runner rounded second. I think ultimately we’re talking about odds that are way less than 1% of Hayes being in the play.

I think Hayes knew that from the start.

Someone with the reaction time to do this…

…would recognize instantly when he’s not going to be involved in a play that he — checks notes — wasn’t involved in.

The bigger thought is that we shouldn’t question how Ke’Bryan Hayes conserves his focus.

How do we know that the split second plays he makes aren’t because he conserves his energy during plays like this where he knows he won’t be involved? Would he still make a play like the one above if his routine was mindlessly running to third base every batter, all to check a box for angry fans?

Again, this is the best defensive third baseman in the game. He will be that way for years.

I don’t question his methods when he’s in his zone on the field.

Endy Rodriguez Can Multitask, Too

On Sunday, I highlighted the defensive skills from Endy Rodriguez in the Pirates DVR.

What has impressed me about Rodriguez’s defense behind the plate is how smooth his throwing transition is. In that video, you can see him multitasking on the field. I’ll link the video here for reference, but you should check out the DVR for home runs from Blake Sabol, Connor Scott, and Brendt Citta.

You can see Rodriguez doing two things at once. He’s actively receiving an 88-MPH pitch down the middle, while actively transitioning his body into position for the throw to second. The moment the runner breaks, he shifts into a mode where he manipulates his body in the exact way needed to make the only play to get the runner at second. Rodriguez has a 45% caught stealing since moving up to Altoona, along with his 1.120 OPS.

There’s a reason I consider Endy Rodriguez the best prospect in the Pirates’ system. This is it.

I’ve seen Rodriguez add more tasks to this process. I posted a video last month when I was in Altoona, showing how he held a runner at first, and then threw out the runner at second.

I love everything about this play. Nothing gets past Rodriguez, even while his attention is divided between the batter at the plate, the pitch coming in, and the runner at first — who he can’t see as well due to the left-handed hitter. Rodriguez even had to save a pitch that was sailed over his head, while checking the runner in one motion. The next pitch was a pitchout, and a perfect throw by Rodriguez, capped off by him showing off the emotions by slamming down his helmet.

That same trip, I saw Rodriguez backhand a low pitch and still make the throw to second. He did something similar in the next video, getting the runner just in time:

The point I’m trying to make here is that I’ve seen enough from Endy Rodriguez to know that his mind is capable of seeing the entire field with the ease that most players can only dream about.

He will be the catcher of the future in Pittsburgh.

Henry Davis might split time, at best.

The reason I say this is simply a testament to Rodriguez. He has whole field awareness, and the ability to snap into focus and manipulate his body to make the impossible play in a split second. He works on auto-pilot, and has looked very good defensively behind the plate.

He has the same ability that Ke’Bryan Hayes has at third base.

I highlight this more to illustrate what good defensive skills look like, than to highlight the sunflower seed play.

This is Bigger Than Hayes

What I hated about the sunflower seed situation is that the Pirates have very little going right at the big league level.

The defense from Ke’Bryan Hayes is one of the few bright spots.

It has become a trend for analysts around the league — typically former big league players — to take shots at the Pirates this year. This was the latest case.

Todd Zeile is a former big league third baseman. He obviously has a ton of knowledge about the game. He could dispel that knowledge and explain this situation in a deeper way, to show what is happening from a baseball sense.

Instead, he chose to go for the layup and take an easy shot at the Pirates. It’s not his job to break down the defensive prowess of Ke’Bryan Hayes. It’s his job to create content for Mets fans — and laughing at the best defensive third baseman in the game after a win is great content for Mets fans.

Typically in this situation, Pittsburgh media and fans will adopt the outside take. The Pirates are a horrible team right now, and they’ve been horrible for the better part of decades. If you attach any small instance to that fact, you find a new reason to complain about an old problem.

This specific situation shows how ridiculous this trend is.

Ke’Bryan Hayes is the best player on the team.

You can take a purist stance to justify anger at Hayes, in order to pile on the anger about the overall organization. All this does is makes Ke’Bryan Hayes answer for a problem that has been created over the last decade by bad management from the Nutting family.

I do think the Pirates are headed in the right direction, but they are severely behind other small market teams on the modern rebuild path, and Pittsburgh is growing impatient.

I don’t blame them.

I asked Bob Nutting prior to the 2018 season if they would take an approach similar to the one they’re taking now. Obviously, they stuck to their old approach, which Nutting made clear to me that they would do at the time. They stuck to this approach for two full seasons.

Had they made the switch in approach at that point, we probably would be watching a playoff team right now.

Instead, Nutting delayed the change from Huntington, and Huntington never changed his approach. I often wonder how much of that was due to Frank Coonelly playing an old-style President role. A key difference between then and now is that Travis Williams doesn’t provide oversight to Ben Cherington, as Coonelly did for Huntington. This organization was largely outdated, and needed a big overhaul to match what modern day successful small market teams were doing.

Unfortunately, that change for the Pirates started right when the world shut down in 2020, which further delayed things. We are just now getting to the end of the second full season of this rebuild.

Going back to those comments from Nutting ahead of the 2018 season, one thing stands out:

“We believe that we can have a more steady window of performance,” Nutting said. “That’s why this year is not a rebuild year. This year is a new direction. It’s younger players, but it’s not a three-year tank. To the extent that we need to stabilize, as opposed to have the wild fluctuations in swings, that’s a direction that we have taken.”

Their approach at the time to stabilize and not have wild fluctuations was a good thought. The reason they needed a three-year tank to get there was because they did not have the organizational structure to prevent those wild fluctuations. They weren’t going to avoid one last wild fluctuation downward. They tried, and that delayed the process.

What I’ve been seeing in my coverage of this new front office is that they are making the changes that this team obviously needed to make a few years ago.

Had they made those changes pre-2018 — and keep in mind, they had just traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, and were about to trade for Chris Archer that summer — then I’m certain this team would be a contender by now.

And maybe in that scenario, we wouldn’t ever be criticizing anything about the defense of Hayes. I guarantee that if Hayes were on a winning team right now (like the Mets), this action would have just been laughed off.

What sucks is that Ke’Bryan Hayes answered for this the next day. I wasn’t there and didn’t see the video, but I doubt anyone approached him with questions about his ability to multitask on the field. He was most likely approached by a crowd of reporters, asking him to explain the situation that was surrounded by criticism. And he did, even though he shouldn’t have to.

By comparison, Bob Nutting was approached by a group of reporters earlier this month, and when asked about the current state of the franchise, he dodged the question.

It has been two weeks since that day. The Hall of Fame day was a really cool event. Nutting is right to not take away from all of the hard work that went into it.

The reason he was asked on that day was because he wasn’t available prior to that day. It’s not like he made himself available in the two weeks following. I even asked specifically for him when I went to Pittsburgh a week earlier, and was told there wouldn’t be one-on-one interviews. A week later, he met the media and dodged any questions about the current team.

The result of Nutting hiding away from questions is that those arrows are still coming in. Fans want answers, and reporters have jobs. Other teams are firing off jabs at the Pirates organization and every player inside — including the best one on the team right now. All of those players then have to answer for why this team is so bad. All of those players have to answer for every little mistake from a hometown media and fan base that is beyond rational anger at this organization.

My thought is that it would probably help Ke’Bryan Hayes if Bob Nutting put himself in front of those questions, and explained the direction of the Pirates.

Unfortunately, the plan the Pirates are on right now involves deliberately tanking by allowing for failure at the big league level.

My guess is that we will see this plan play out as I hoped a few years ago. The Pirates will start winning, and will increase their payroll — going higher this time due to keeping the 2020-2022 (and likely 2023) payrolls lower than they could have been.

I honestly don’t know which one of those statements will draw more laughs from jaded Pirates fans.

The idea that they will start winning again?

The idea that Nutting is saving money now to spend it in the future?

I can tell you that I wouldn’t be here, running this site, if I didn’t think those two things would be true.

I can also tell you that I don’t know if those two things will be true with certainty, or to what extent.

That’s the problem I see in Pittsburgh. Fans are left in the dark about where this team is heading.

I can tell you all about how the prospects are progressing, but the Pirates still haven’t shown that they can get a prospect to his MLB upside. Until that happens, Pirates fans won’t trust this highly ranked farm system.

I can tell you where I think the Pirates should boost their MLB club this offseason with outside additions. I can’t tell you if Ben Cherington will get aggressive this offseason, as he has shown no signs of that in the previous offseasons.

I can tell you that I truly believe the payroll will increase to a level higher than the $110 million ranges in 2015-2017. I can’t tell you if the increase will be significant enough to compete with other small market clubs employing this same strategy.

I don’t really have any hope to give for Pirates fans.

No one does.

Except maybe Bob Nutting.

He’s not talking.

That leaves the players to answer for every single instance that reminds Pirates fans how bad this organization has been.

That allows Todd Zeile to put the best player on the team on blast for something trivial — which I guarantee would be spun a different way if Hayes played for the Mets.

And because Pirates fans and media only know emotional reactions to outside criticism of the team, that constantly leads to a situation where people like Ke’Bryan Hayes are dealing with displaced frustrations, all because they made a tiny mistake.

When the Pirates are winning, fans won’t care about this stuff and media will have actual things to discuss.

Until they get serious about winning from the top, it shouldn’t be the players receiving the brunt of the frustrations.

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Respectfully disagree, Tim. The play wasn’t over and he disengaged. The fact that he is a superb defender and was correct in his assessment – as he would be 99% of the time – doesn’t alter the fact that he shouldn’t have done it. No different than running out a routine ground ball. You stay in the game and play until the play is over. However, the hype surrounding it is ridiculous, He made a mistake. Big deal. Shelton should address it (if he’s capable), Hayes should own it and we move on.


lets put the Hayes seed issue in the past. I have read and reread it over and over again. If he has 25 dingers and 35 doubles it would not even be a thought.


I disagree – it would only be a non issue if the Pirates were winning. But, winning teams don’t do such unprofessional things like eating sunflower seeds in the middle of a play or having a cell phone in your pocket while running the bases.


Cell phones in the dugout or on the field is a rule violation, is eating sunflower seeds on the field a rule violation per MLB?


This is a blasphemous rumor. (I’ve heard it before but am in full denial.)


Hayes may be are best defensive player, but no way is our best player…
Have you forgot about Reynolds and Cruz…Newman is a better hitter…
Hayes should be batting 8th..not in the top of the order…
Pirates need to take the Corey Dickerson 2 strike approach when battling with 2 strikes…put the damn ball in play
.they take way too many strikes and they strike out on balls out of the zone.


Tim, specifically who are the people the Pirates have in place responsible for developing the kids in the farm system into solid major league prospects? The abject failure of Gregory Polanco still sticks in everyone’s throat.There have been others going as far back as ten years ago.
And BTW, I thought Bryan Reynolds was our best player but I’m not here to argue about that now.
Thanks again.


Polanco, Alen Hansen, Joe, Tucker, Craig, Newman, Swaggerty just to name a few


This entire incident has been blown out of proportion. My guess is that Hayes didn’t even realize that he got the sunflower seeds while the play was in progress. Eating seeds while the play is going on didn’t cause the Pirates any addional runs or bases. He has probably does this numerous times before it just wasn’t pointed out by an analyst.

If you are mad at the owner, GM, manager or all three take it out on them, not one of the few good players that this team has. Blame Ben C. for not assembling a better pitching staff or Bob Nutting for not giving him the budget to do so.


With regard to Endy, he’s going to be a hybrid of Molina on defense and Buster on offense. The sky is the limit with how good he’s going to become.

Hayes is least of our problems.


Obviously not the forum for this, but is there any update on the prospect guide? I looked for a recent update and couldn’t find anything.  timwilliamsp2


Maybe Hayes is a little spacey–he missed 1B last year on what should have been a HR and now there’s this. He still may be my favorite on the current team.

One thing I found mildly annoying, though, is Shelton’s statement about the situation which came off as being overly defensive about his ability to manage/motivate:

“The people that watch us every night know that our effort is never anything that comes into question. We’ve had like three times all year long where effort has come into question and we dealt with it.”

I don’t think even the most successful teams can honestly say that a lack of effort is this rare and it comes off to me as a manager who is insecure about his ability to lead and therefore has to promote his ability to have players ready.

Or maybe it just makes me feel stupid because I watch them nearly every night and when a team suffers a humiliating blowout every two weeks or so, I feel like the number of times we might question the effort is a little higher than three.


Thank you for these reasonable comments, Tim. It wasn’t a great moment for Hayes, but the level of outrage it has generated is absurd. Truly making a making a mountain out of a molehill (or is it simply a tempest in a teapot?).

With all the either incompetent or disgracefully greedy stuff happening at the management and corporate level in baseball — both the Pirates and the league at large — picking out this teeny glitch by a reportedly dedicated and hard working player (who almost certainly would have been able to make any play required on that play anyway) and turning it into this huge indictment is just a distraction: let’s vilify this player and ignore the much greater “disrespect for the game” that is actually running rampant at the higher levels.


The players don’t live in a vacuum, they see how other owners try to make their teams better while the Pirates sign washed up players because they come cheap and only have one plan, to build the team through the draft and LA signings.
They play their home games in front of a few thousand people while other teams play in front of tens of thousands of cheering fans.
I can understand why a player may lose his focus in the midst of another miserable season.
Although I would hate for the city to lose its franchise, but If Nutting cannot afford to run this team properly than MLB should move it to another location or if possible, make Nutting sell the team to someone who can afford it or just contract the franchise, but somehow this abortion must end.
We have seen how hard it is for minor league players to make the transition to every day major leaguers, the Pirates are looking at more years of losing while young players try to make the grade and may never make it, while this franchise keeps plodding along and the only thing the fans can do is wait on another draft and hope someday, they draft Superman.


The one thing that absolutely nuts about the Pirate management and it begins at the top and includes the Team President whatever he does and Ben they don’t talk they give us cliff notes. I do get frustrated at the lack of common sense that the Pirate players have but when you’re in last place it happens it’s just more noticeable. Ben needs to address the fans and say this is our plan for next year the payroll will be this and we know the areas that we need to address and we’ll be active. Give us something


Until new ownership and management take over, I see little reason much will change for the Pirates. Incompetence and lack of leadership and vision are the hallmark of the franchise – and it spills out in embarrassing ways on the field as well.


To suggest that Nutting is suddenly going to change who he is – a cheap owner only interested in maximizing the bottom line – and now wants to compete, win, and significantly invest in the roster’s payroll seems ludicrous to believe. If anything the payroll could get lower in the next 12 months, if guys like Reynolds, Brubaker, Gamel, Crowe, Newman, etc. are moved or leave. When the Pirates sign a REAL free agent – a high caliber player in the prime of his career and with multiple teams pursuing – that will be the first one.

Last edited 9 days ago by redwards60

First things first….I have no animosity towards Hayes – he seems like a great kid and his father was a good player for many years for the Phillies and Giants.

Secondly, I disagree with the contention that Hayes is currently the Pirates best player. Is he their best defensive player? No question – no one remotely close. but, his hitting, power, and run production have been VERY disappointing in 2022 – especially after he got the huge extension that wasn’t obviously earned based on what he’s done to date in his young career. He needs to do better – much better. Although Reynolds was also disappointing in 2022, I still consider him the Pirates best all around player. But, neither Hayes or Reynolds approach the enormous gifts and potential of Cruz – who will likely be the team’s best player in 2023.

As for the incident involving Hayes….it was embarrassing, unprofessional, and indefensible. Anyone who defends it or tries to justify or explain it away, is part of the problem. I also didn’t like Hayes response when asked about it. The Pirates need to expect more from its players – and hold them accountable when they do stupid things like this. Castro’s recent “phone debacle” was equally embarrassing and indefensible. the fact these things occur tells me that Pirates management lacks leadership and hasn’t clearly communicated expectations it has for its players.

Should Hayes be suspended for this? No. Should he sit a game or two? Absolutely, yes.

That is all I am going to say about the issue.

Last edited 9 days ago by redwards60

Professionalism can be defined as either skill and competence or based on standards and codes of conduct. Hayes violated neither; this is so hard for those operating under dogmatic principles to understand.


I’m not at all sure why you or anyone else feels the need to defend Ke’Bryan Hayes. In my mind he doesn’t need defending. He’s a talented younger player on a floundering team who did a dumb thing that was caught on camera. Not really a major story or at least it shouldn’t be.

If that was the end of it everyone could have a chuckle and just move on, but unfortunately because of the state of this organization it leaves him and everyone else who cares about the team looking incompetent, inept and yes dumb for caring about the Pirates especially when they make it quite obvious on a regular basis that they do not care about us.

Hayes, like every other player on any team regardless of age or experience, needs leadership and more than anything else that’s what the Pirates lack. They have an owner who cares nothing about the game of baseball, a GM who must please his boss, a manager who’s trying to build his resume by being the players buddy instead of their mentor (probably because he has no idea how to do it) and a varying group of players with no guidance or direction. How can you expect anything other than what you’re seeing day after day?

Why should Hayes, Reynolds or any other decent player care if the team has made it clear it doesn’t? It’s their job so, yes, they have to keep trying. Fans can change the channel but players are stuck and have to try to make the best of it. So have some sunflower seeds, it might be the only reward you’re going to get.

You say that you expect the payroll to significantly increase. Is that just a hope or is there some evidence to support your expectation? Why will Bob Nutting, a man who clearly cares about only one thing and it ain’t winning baseball games, spend his precious money on something he cares nothing about?

I hope you’re right and that he will at least do some things to look like he’s trying to win, but if he’s planning on increasing the payroll, don’t you think he’d tell you and the fans instead of hiding it?


I hate the whole concept of a tear down and rebuild. The chance of success is much smaller than is portrayed on this site and others. There is one thing that is guaranteed in this process and that is 4-5 years of dreadful baseball at the major league level.

Other small market teams are successful on a recurring basis. These rebuilds are mostly a result of a GM with a goal of showing the world he is smarter than his predecessor and an owner who likes to do things on the cheap.

We still may be 2-3 years from competing for a post season spot and that sucks. But in the meantime, Ben has a job and Nutting makes a profit.


Objectively what Hayes did was stoopid. There’s simply no defending it. Snack time isn’t while you’re on the field of play.

I don’t think it changed people’s opinion of Hayes – good D, disappointing offensive production.

What’s most irksome about it for me is that its emblematic of this entire organization’s committment to winning. It doesn’t exist.

Mgmt doesn’t care about winning this year nor will it next year. And when the boss doesn’t care about winning, that has an impact on everyone down the line. That’s just how it works.

Whatever is happening from a baseball perspective makes zero different to Nutting. He truly doesn’t care so long as he can rake in annual profits. Anyone who thinks that Nutting is saving up money from lower payroll years to use later is 1) naive or 2) financially dumb.

I got a chuckle out of these lines btw: “How do we know that the split second plays he makes aren’t because he conserves his energy during plays like this where he knows he won’t be involved? Would he still make a play like the one above if his routine was mindlessly running to third base every batter, all to check a box for angry fans?” Hilarious! Hey, why not take a nap out there – he’d be even MORE productive! Let’s get him a pillow and blankey.


Yeah Tim, I understand your point but think you’re trying to stretch it a bit too far on this one. He just lost focus, when he was asked he didn’t say the sunflower seed are and import part of my process, he said he shouldn’t eat them during the play. I’m sure even Brooks Robinson lost focus a few times, baseball can be a long, boring game when you’re always losing and not involved in a play.

I agree the media reaction is annoying and over the top, Hayes should be celebrated as a defensive wizard. But its self inflicted from the Pirates, they’ve been a laughingstock for Cherington’s entire tenure. The only way Hayes can respond is to stop eat sunflower seeds during a play, and to keep making fantastic plays. If the Pirates ever become competitive, he’ll be appreciated. If he could hit a baseball more than 3 feet off the ground, that would also help his cause.

Last edited 9 days ago by clemo83

Tim obviously wants to just fall on his own sword on this one. Key’s actions have not one iota to do with his playing superior defense, or how he compares to Arenado, or his utilization of “downtime” to conserve his energy…….that is quite laughable! The game has quite a bit of downtime already built into it…….there’s maybe 15 minutes of actual balls into play out of a 3-hour game (somebody has published the exact amount, it’s well-documented). It’s a minor gaffe, just like Castro’s cell phone gaffe and Will Craig’s botched rundown play. Stuff happens……there are teammates fighting amongst themselves in the dugout that cameras catch, relief pitchers mouthing off to managers when manager comes to the mound to pull them (see Kapler vs. Zack Litell), etc. etc.

Key deserves the questions that Tim feels shouldn’t have been asked. And correctly so, he is going to damn well change his snack behavior going forward. It’s another learning experience…….not one that should just be swept under the rug and act like it never happened or that Key is above it all. Smh.

b mcferren

how is his offensive production disappointing if he never gave any indication throughout his minor league career that he is a good hitter?


He’s at a power position. His OPS is under.700. Don’t get me wrong – he’s a nice player. He simply doesn’t have any power.


My problem with the power position argument is that those stereotypes dont really matter at all anymore. SS used to be speed and contact guys but now we have cruz, seager, correa, bogaerts, tatis jr. who don’t fit that mold. Same goes for CF. Also, ke clearly has power potential based on his elite exit velos and hard hit %, just needs a launch angle adjustment which is often fairly coachable in an offseason.


Did those stereotypes ever really matter?

All it took were some nerds to deconstruct those old recipes and change the game forever.


Lol no of course not, but that’s why i dont agree with the idea that just because ke plays third base that he cant be nearly as valuable if he’s not a big power hitter


I completely agree with you, runs can be created and saved in multiple different ways.

b mcferren

those power hitting shortstops and centerfielders are still unicorns

for instance, look how many teams want to trade for Reynolds to be their center fielder

it sucks that we cannot have a foundations and the positions of power (where there is an abundance of hitting talent in comparison to cf and ss)

b mcferren

they’ve been pacify’ing the fanbase for 25 years by claiming investment in defense is the answer for a small market team

if you are third baseman and you can’t hit, then you don’t belong in the major leagues, much less earn a $70mil contract


Spot on


The Pirates DO NOT have a best player…they have a few or a handful of mediocre and then worse players…

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