PITTSBURGH – With the caveat that I am biased on this matter, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America got it right.
Not to boast about myself or my brethren in the chapter because I’ve never torn a rotator cuff while patting myself on the back. However, it’s hard to quibble with the Pirates who won the chapter’s three annual awards Saturday.
The Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the team MVP, was won by third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes.
Right-hander Mitch Keller captured the Steve Blass Award as the top pitcher.
The Chuck Tanner Good Guy award went to designated hitter/outfielder/franchise icon Andrew McCutchen.
No Pirates position player has had a great season and a case could also be made for outfielders Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski for the Clemente Award. However, after two years of playing outstanding defense, Hayes has started to deliver on the offensive promise he showed while coming up through the farm system in his third full major-league season.
Hayes is hitting .273/.310/.455 with a career-high 15 home runs – the first time he has reached double digits – in 124 games.
Since playing only one game between June 25 and Aug. 1 because of a back issue, Hayes has hit .304/.330/.558 with 10 home runs in 48 games. His only better stretch came during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season when he made his major-league debut Sept. 1 and slashed .376/.442/.682 with five homers over the final 24 games.
“I think we saw a healthy Ke’Bryan Hayes for an extended period of time,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “I know we keep saying that, but the ability to drive the ball, the ability to have consistent at-bats. Defensively, it’s well-documented how I feel about him. But I think we’re seeing the complete player, the guy that can do so many things, that can impact the game in so many different ways.”
Hayes’ defense has again been elite, and he deserves to end the 10-year stranglehold on the National League Gold Glove Award held by the St. Louis Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado. Hayes has 19 defensive runs saved. Arenado’s fielding has slipped to having only one DRS.
Keller had a rocky second half of the season with a 4-5 record and a 5.59 ERA in 13 starts after making his first All-Star Game appearance. Yet his body of work was the best among Pirates’ starting pitchers. He finished 13-9 with a 4.21 ERA and 210 strikeouts.
The number that stands out with Keller is 194.1 innings pitched. It is the most by a Pirates pitcher since Gerrit Cole logged 203 in 2017 and gave Keller the edge in my mind over closer David Bednar, who has had an outstanding season.
Throwing 194.1 innings is noteworthy in an era when most teams don’t have five pitchers capable of filling a starting rotation and must use openers, bulk-inning pitchers, and bullpen games to cover innings.
“Just good routines,” Keller said when asked for the key to his durability. “In between starts, really good communication with the training staff and everyone involved. It’s a tribute to that, staying on it and never really taking a day off. There’s always something that can be done. Even if I’m not playing in the game that day, there’s something I can do to prepare myself to be better for my bullpen (session). If it’s the next start or whatever it may be.”
After being away from the Pirates for five years, McCutchen has picked up right where he left off. He is an ambassador for the team, the region and the game of baseball as he has always understood his role goes beyond on-field performance, which includes community service and media obligations.
All the Pirates would be wise to learn the off-the-field part of the game from McCutchen. No one handles it better.