Nolan Arenado has sat atop the throne as the third base gold glove winner since the 2013 season, but can Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes dethrone him?
Coming up through the minor leagues, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes was mostly known for his glove and defensive ability. While he’s made strides to improve his offense over the past two years, it’s still his ability to field at the hot corner that stands out. But to win the Gold Glove, he’ll have to overcome a massive hurdle: Nolan Arenado and his 8 straight Gold Gloves.
Since the 2013 season, the longtime Colorado Rockie and now St. Louis Cardinal has taken home the award for National League third basemen. The last National League third baseman not named Nolan Arenado to win the award? Chase Headley. The last NL third baseman to win it in two straight seasons was David Wright back in 2007 and 2008.
Now, granted, he hasn’t gotten there because he’s popular. Arenado has 16.6 defensive WAR, the 89th most of all time. He has already surpassed multiple Hall of Fame players who were known for their defensive prowess like Barry Larkin (14.4 dWAR) and Wade Boggs (13.9). His 85 total zone runs (precursor to many of the defensive stats we have today) rank 74th all-time, already ahead of the likes of Johnny Bench, Rickey Henderson, and Ryne Sandberg.
So what has Hayes done with the glove this season that gives Arenado a run for his money? In 766.1 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates Hayes has over double the Defensive Runs Saved to Arenado. While Arenado has just +7, Hayes comes in with +16. Hayes leads all third basemen by +4 runs (Ryan McMahon comes in with +12).
The impressive part of this is Hayes has fewer innings played at third than McMahon and has over 500 fewer innings at the hot corner to Arenado. He also outpaces Arenado in UZR/150. Among players with at least 500 innings played at third, Hayes leads them all with a +8.3 mark, again being followed by McMahon at +8.1. What about dWAR? Hayes has Arenado beat yet again, 1.8 to 1.0.
Outs Above Average loved Hayes the most. They had him pinned with 13 OAA. Arenado still was among the best, but had 9 to his name, 4 fewer than Hayes. The only noteworthy stat that Arenado outdoes Hayes in was range runs above average at 0.9 compared to Hayes’s 0.2. Still, Hayes led in multiple other categories.
Now I know what you may be thinking. How is Hayes expected to win an award that, for the most part of baseball history, has been given to the more popular player, or the player who has made a handful of highlight-reel plays over the true winner? It’s happened multiple times in the past. Derek Jeter is one of the most infamous examples of the popular player winning it because of highlight plays, but former Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson never won one, despite the fact he’s top 50 in all-time dWAR and is one of 6 players ever to have more than 100 defensive runs saved. Heck, Rafael Palmeiro, one of the 1990’s biggest sluggers, owns the 1999 American League first base Gold Glove after just 28 games played at the position throughout the season. Even the last non-Arenado player to win the NL 3B Gold Glove was less deserving than a handful of other candidates. So what chance does Hayes have?
Well, it seems voters are more willing to focus on the stats than the highlight plays. Nick Ahmed, the Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop, ended San Francisco Giants’ Brandon Crawford’s streak of three straight Gold Gloves. Ahmed, nor the Diamondbacks, are necessarily the most popular player or team to ever exist.
David Peralta won the left field Gold Glove with the same D-Backs team. Tucker Barnhart has taken home a pair of Gold Gloves despite the likes of Buster Posey and Yadier Molina being finalists. Over in the American League, Texas Ranger Isaiah Kiner-Falfea took home the third base gold glove. Evan White and J.P. Crawford also took home some hardware for their defensive prowess. In 2019, White Sox Yolmer Sanchez won the award over the likes of the Astro Jose Altuve and Yankees’ D.J. LeMahieu.
Overall, errors and fielding percentage are a complete thing of the past as well. Errors aren’t an indicator of a bad defender, nor is fielding percentage. Good fielders make more errors than bad fielders. Good fielders make the more difficult plays and have more of a chance to make an error than a bad fielder. While Hayes leads Arenado in these two categories as well, it’s not something that will help either.
Voters are taking into account subjective things such as highlight plays, errors/fielding percentage, and popularity much less anymore.
This is proven with last year’s Gold Glove as it was decided on by SABR’s defensive index. While Hayes doesn’t qualify for their index right now, Arenado is far from the #1 player according to their calculation. He does rank 3rd at +3.8 but is still behind San Diego’s Manny Machado and the aforementioned McMahon. Based on his multiple other defensive statistics, you can make the reasonable conclusion that Hayes, while not having enough innings to qualify per their measurement, would lead all third basemen in SDI. Plus it’s also been a tool used by voters since 2013, showing the defensive statistic revolution that is being used in voting.
Errors and fielding percentage is a complete thing of the past as well. Errors aren’t an indicator of a bad defender, nor is fielding percentage. Good fielders make more errors than bad fielders. Good fielders make the more difficult plays and have more of a chance to make an error than a bad fielder. While Hayes leads Arenado in these two categories as well, it’s not something that will help either.
The only real argument that can be made against Hayes is his playing time, which is a fair argument. Hayes has played less than 800 innings at the hot corner for the Pittsburgh Pirates logging a total of 766.1. Plus he only has 96 total games played this year. If he plays 120 games and logs 900 innings at third, he’s the easy winner, but the lack of playing time will be used against him.
Still, there’s a whole lot going for Ke’Bryan Hayes. Popularity has gone by the wayside in favor of what the stats say. It’s about time too because plenty of players have been snubbed in baseball history of awards despite being the superior player. Hayes will give Nolan Arenado a real run for his money during award season, and he quite honestly deserves the award despite the playing time.