There are few players in the game with more raw talent then Jason Heyward. At the same time, there are few players in the game with more questions surrounding them than Heyward after he had an abysmal 2011 season. Worse than the numbers he posted is the fact that he is perilously close to having the tag of “soft” stuck to his name forever, and there isn’t anything less flattering that you can have had as a nickname.
As a rookie, Heyward lashed line drives around the field as if multiple All-Star games were a foregone conclusion. Heyward hit .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBI, 83 runs scored and 11 steals over the course of 142 games in an excellent rookie season. Heyward also displayed great plate discipline with a .393 OBP. When you can do all of that as a 21 year old, the world is your oyster. Or so we thought. Heyward saw a regression in almost every imaginable way in his season season.
He lost four homers from his rookie season.
He had 30 fewer RBI.
He scored 33 fewer runs.
He stole two fewer bases.
His batting average fell .050 points.
His OBP dropped .074 points.
His SLG fell from .456 down to .389. Yes, his SLG in Year II was lower than his OBP in Year I.
Was his effort as bad as it seemed? In some respects there is no doubt – Heyward was an unmitigated disaster. In other respects, Heyward wasn’t as awful as it appeared.
Heyward’s K-rate was unchanged from his rookie season as it moved a tenth falling from 20.5 percent down to 20.4 percent. His walk rate was still solid at 11.2 percent, though that was 3.4 percent below his rookie rate. The result was a 0.55 BB/K mark that was still better than the league average. So why did he hit .227? He simply didn’t hit any line drives. Heyward produced a 13.1 percent line drive rate, nearly five points below his rookie mark of 17.8 percent. There is no way puts the barrel on the ball as infrequently in 2012. Since he didn’t hit anything on a line, it’s no surprise that his BABIP fell from .335 to .260. Add those two years up and his BABIP is still right on the big league average of .302.
Despite the loss of liners, Heyward actually did a better job at the plate in two respects. (1) His GB-rate dropped by over a point. (2) His fly ball rate went up by six percent. It may not have translated to anything in 2011, but a few more fly balls will be needed for Heyward to be a 25 homer threat (his HR/F rate was still 13.9 percent in 2011, not an awful number). Bottom line though is that he has to start lifting the ball as his 54 percent ground ball rate is something that Juan Pierre should have, not a guy who stands 6’5” and weighs 240 pounds. Oddly, for those of you into advanced metrics, Heyward’s Isolated Power mark was .179 in 2010, and despite all his struggles in 2011, it only fell to .162 (Isolated Power records a players raw power by taking SLG-AVG).
So what do you do with Heyward in 2012? To me, he’s likely to be one of the better bargains in the game (he was drafted in the sixth round in a recent mock draft of experts though, so it all depends on who you are drafting with in terms of his “bargainess”). Heyward is still only 22 years old. He’s still one of the most impressive physical specimens in the game. He’s only one season removed from a pretty damn impressive rookie effort. The ball still makes a different sound when it comes off his bat. Add that all up and I’m buying Heyward, especially if he slips in drafts. Let others worry about that “soft” label while you take advantage of the discount you will get on a guy who still oozes talent.
By Ray Flowers