Jason Heyward (written by Adam M)

In 2012, Jason Heyward very quietly became one of the best all-around outfielders in baseball. He was an above-average hitter, he was a great base runner, and he was a fantastic defender. Compared to his disappointing 2011 season, Heyward’s 2012 season marked improvement in almost all facets of the game.

The biggest concern about Heyward entering 2012 was his bat. After a fantastic 2010 debut in which he posted an eye-popping 14.6 BB% and .393 OBP, Heyward’s plate discipline, line drive rate, and power all declined. And while he did manage to hit fewer ground balls relative to fly balls, his Infield Fly Rate skyrocketed to an obscene 21.8%. Altogether, Heyward was a below average hitter in 2011.

In 2012 he took several major, positive steps. Sacrificing some plate discipline for better, harder contact, and with a retooled swing that led to a significant jump in fly balls, Jason Heyward posted a respectable .814 OPS, .351 wOBA, and 120 wRC+. His isolated power (ISO), meanwhile, jumped from .162 to .210. Most encouraging of all, Heyward’s line drive percentage jumped from a paltry 13.1% to 19.3%, which helps explain his concurrent jump in BABIP from .260 to .319.

In other facets of the game, Heyward shined. Fangraphs ranked him as the sixth best base runner in all of baseball. He routinely moved from first to third on singles and scored from second on hits; and he swiped 21 bases (8 CS) to boot. But what stood out especially was Heyward’s defense in right field. Simply put, he has become the best right fielder in baseball, and one of the best outfielders overall. In 2012, all the while passing the lying eye test, Heyward compiled a stunning 21.5 Ultimate Zone Rating all the while saving 20 runs above average. With three seasons in the books, we now have adequate enough data to conclude that Jason Heyward is one of the elite outfielders in all of baseball. He looks great out there, and the metrics back it up.

There are two primary hurdles Heyward will have to jump to take the next step. One is the plate discipline he sacrificed this year. Heyward’s BB/K-rate has gone from .71 in 2010, to .55 in 2011, to .38 in 2012. Although we can’t disentangle that decline from a concurrent increase in fly ball rate and slugging percentage, we shouldn’t ignore it either. Only when Heyward starts striking out less and walking a bit more than he did in 2012 will he reach his ceiling.

The other concern is his splits. Even with the 2012 improvements, Heyward was absolutely dreadful against lefties: his 72 wRC+ screams for a platoon partner. That said, the guy is still only 23, and other left-handed hitters with less impressive skill sets and more drastic platoon splits have learned how to hit lefties long after they broke into the league (see: Granderson, Curtis). Heyward should improve in this area just by virtue of his gaining more experience. But it remains something to watch for: when he learns how to hit lefties, he will probably win an MVP award.

With Chipper Jones retiring and Brian McCann aging, Jason Heyward has become the face of the Atlanta Braves franchise. Let’s lock him up right now so that he remains so for many years to come, and so that we can enjoy, not rue, his transformation into a perennial MVP candidate.

There is, in other words, no more time to wait: Jason Heyward’s time has come.

110 thoughts on “Jason Heyward (written by Adam M)”

  1. Is there any serious thought of moving Jason to CF? Although I think he could handle it, I really like to leave guys in spots where they can be great instead of moving them to positions of need where they can be just better than average.

  2. Kudos to whoever posted a few weeks back that he/she thought the new TV deals would lead to a big jump in free agent prices this offseason. Olney is quoting anonymous execs claiming there are frightening amounts of cash in play.

  3. Thanks, Adam, for the well-written analysis.

    I’m for leaving Jason in right, justhank. However, I’m on pins and needles about how the Braves will resolve centerfield. Reed Johnson is a nice fourth outfielder, but he is definitely not the answer in center; and Bourn will have to choose to return to Atlanta and forego millions to do so.

    The Braves don’t have a frightening amount of cash. Let’s hope they spend what they have wisely.

  4. Nice work, Adam.

    What can you say about Heyward? Big step up this year. And Adam nailed it–walk a bit more & begin to hit lefties some and you have a genuinely elite player.

    And, from previous HoF/Lofton thread, well done, AAR.

    FWIW, I’m generally a “small-Hall” guy, but it wouldn’t break my heart to see a guy like Lofton (outstanding at his job–a terrific leadoff hitter/defensive CF) get into the HoF. Nonetheless, he remains borderline, which probably means he probably doesn’t get in.

    Also, kinda interesting thing that those Indians teams will have 3 guys with HoF numbers (Lofton, Belle, Manny) that probably won’t get into Cooperstown for various reasons. One’s an unliked borderline case, another a hated lunatic/cheater & the third a double-busted ‘roider.

    Was at a convention in Europe last week & it was amusing to see how the NYC delegates would occasionally break into semi-private commiseration. What were they speaking about in such hushed tones? The Yankees.

    Gonna be another fun week listening to local radio.

  5. This might be crazy talk, but I think A-Rod would be a good trade target for the Braves. He’s got 5 years / $119M left on his deal, but word on the street is that the Yanks may be willing to eat $80M+ to be rid of him (see: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/imagining-an-a-rod-trade/). ARod may be 37 and declining, but he’s still an above-average right-handed hitter (and a 3B). If the Braves were only on the hook for, say, $35M for the remainder of his contract, that could really work out well. We’ve got Juan Francisco to take some starts against righties, and in that case, A-Rod would be waiting on the bench as a pinch hitter in the late innings. Plus, at $35M total, the deal would be worthwhile even if you’re not getting much in the last couple seasons of A-Rod’s contract.

    Bottom line, A-Rod was a 4-win player each season from 2009 – 2011 before dropping to 2 WAR in 2012. I think he’s got several more 3-4 WAR years in him. Frankly, this would not be a traditional Braves move, but I think it makes sense. Then again, I think it made even more sense for the Braves to trade for Chris Young (much younger, plays CF), so who knows.

  6. NickH, why do you think he’s got “several more 3-4 WAR years in him”?

    I think this is a good blog post driving my skepticism. Basically, here’s the takeaway:

    Alex is one of only 13 players in major league history with at least 4000 PA through his age-25 season. Basically all of them were in serious decline or done by age 37.

    What makes you think that Alex can deliver several more years that will be more effective than 2012? Because if you’re right, then I agree, he might be worth targeting. But I’m skeptical.

  7. @10 – Obviously, A-Rod has a lot of mileage on his body, and players with odometer readings that high are typically done by age 37. Then again, none of the guys cited in that ESPN article were getting experimental knee surgery like A-Rod did. I have to think that the knee treatment helped A-Rod’s legs (which were big source of his injury issues IIRC), he stole 13 bases last year (1 CS) after only 8 SB total in ’10 – ’11.

    The only A-Rod ABs I watched this year were a few in the playoffs (where he sucked) so I’ve got no idea how he looked re: the eye test this season. I will grant you that the trends in A-Rod’s batting metrics (particularly his K/BB and contact rates) are troubling, but personally I don’t think we can simply call 2012’s output the new A-Rod.

    All that said, I just read that A-Rod also has a bunch of performance bonuses (He’s at 647 career HR now and is due payments of $6 million each for reaching 660, 714, 755, 762, 763) that I’d forgotten about. Even if the Braves were OK with taking on A-Rod’s baggage, there would be a ton of push-back to celebrating A-Rod passing Hank Aaron’s HR record, and there’s no way the Braves would be cool with paying an admitted steroid user for supplanting the most revered Brave ever in the record books.

    I guess what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t be at all surprised in A-Rod has a good season next year, but it won’t be with the Braves, and that’s OK.

  8. Now that you mention it, the Aaron factor probably disqualifies the Braves as suitors. Imagine someone passing the one-time holder of the most hallowed record in sports (damn you, steroids, for forcing me into employing such tortured syntax), and being booed by his home crowd for doing it.

  9. My t-shirt reads: *It’s Still 755

    If you watched his late-season & post-season offensive performances, you’d notice that A-Rod just didn’t hit for any power. He was getting especially humiliated by anyone who threw from the right side. Managers didn’t fear him at all and Girardi had obviously seen enough.

    After returning from injury on Sept 3 (missed 37 games), he had 151 PAs, hit 3 2Bs, 3 HRs & 26 singles, adding up to a 235/291/324 line. That includes going 3 for 25 in the post-season with 2 BBs, 0 XBHs & 12 Ks. (He was 261/338/369 in September.)

    I’m not sure if any club really wants an aging & injury-prone A-Rod. Let the Yanks make that supposed Marlins deal. If not, he’ll become the YES Network’s most expensive announcer.

  10. @10 Another factor in favor of my “A-Rod is still a decent player” hypothesis: he missed 6+ weeks of playing time when Felix Hernandez hit him and broke his hand on July 24. In addition to the missed time, it’s quite likely the injury had some residual effects on A-Rod’s hitting for the remainder the season. Even if you just credit A-Rod for the playing time lost to the hand injury, he grades out at 3 WAR or so.

  11. My screen name isn’t “justhank” for nothing. Like ububba’s t-shirt, I’m of the belief that Barry “Solo” Bonds owns nada.

    And being coerced into cheering for A-Rod to hit homeruns for the Braves which might push him past Mr. Aaron is not something I’m willing to do.

  12. If the Braves were only on the hook for, say, $35M for the remainder of his contract, that could really work out well

    Who covers the incentive portions of his contract? He’s got 5/$114 left, but he gets a $3mil bonus in 2014. He also gets a $6 mil marketing bonus for HR milestones 660, 714, 755, tying, and breaking the record. Arod hasnt played over 125 games but once in the past 4 seasons. He cant hit right handed pitching and he’s pretty poor in the field. Id rather allocate those funds towards a LF’r and put Martin Prado at 3rd. Justin Upton for LF!

  13. @1
    I think the Braves look at Heyward the same way you do. Moving him to CF decreases his value. I hope the Braves look at trading Hanson for an OF.

  14. If A-Rod helps us win, I don’t care if he passes Aaron while doing it. I’m not sentimental, but I think we could find a way to do better than him at this point.

  15. The only way A-Rod averages out to be a 3-4 win player over the length of his remaining contract is if he works with a Lance Armstrong-calibre team of doping doctors. But that is assuming he hasn’t been doing that already just to maintain his 2012-level production. And it would require that his body not break down completely, which seems pretty probable if you ask me.

  16. I’m so fixated on 755 I’m not even sure how many Bonds hit.

    I can’t see a scenario where we want to get ARod. There are better ways to allocate resources IMHO.

    Great write up on Jason Heyward, Adam. I hope he can get that walk rate and BABIP up but even if he is just the player we got this last season he is still a very good championship caliber contributor. Everything that I have read states that the Braves have no interest in moving him to CF. I agree with this. If he stays in RF then I think he has a better chance of achieving elite level offense.

  17. If we’re going to get a New York star with a big contract, let’s focus on nabbing the OTHER MLB third basemen. You know, David Wright.

  18. …err, that’s the OTHER New York MLB third baseman…

    FMEB! (That’s ‘Fucking Missing Edit Button’ for those of you who can’t read my mind.)

  19. SP’s pipe dream line-up next year:

    Pagan CF
    Prado LF
    Heyward RF
    Wright 3B
    Freeman 1B
    Uggla 2B
    McCann C
    Simmons SS

  20. Given that Wright is the face of the team, you’d think the Mets would do everything to lock him up and prevent other teams from taking him.

    But then again, they are the Mets, who actually agreed to a trade for Jeff Francoeur, so…

  21. I’m always amused when people act like ARod hitting his HR milestones would be a problem because of the financial implications. If he reaches those points, it’ll mean he’s been well worth the investment.

    Personally, I doubt the Braves trade for him; he just doesn’t seem like an “Atlanta” guy. I’m also not too optimistic about his future as a full-time player. (I think he’d have crazy success playing part time, though.)

  22. If it’s true that new tv deals have given a bunch of teams additional cash, that means guys like Greinke will be priced out of Atlanta’s range–and that guys like Angel Pagan will be overpriced as well. It’s very possible that the Braves are active on the trade market. Perhaps they sign one guy to fill one of their two big holes, but they will probably fill the other one, be it CF, LF, or 3B, through trade.

    Oh, and thanks everyone for the kind words.

  23. Seat Painter, that’s a line-up I could get behind. Get it done, Wren.

    Concerning the Pagan Angel, I’m up in the air about signing him. There is very much a sense that he is a nice, productive player who in “underrated” and will be paid less than his contributions merit, making him this great sleeper signing for a team like the Braves to get more bang (WAR) for their buck.

    The problem is that I have seen this very same line of thinking written about Pagan and many other teams. I don’t think most GMs (glaring exception in Kansas City) are blind to the fact that Pagan is a good player and the Braves aren’t the only team looking for outfield help. Get into a bidding war for him and I foresee the Braves getting outbid or worse, paying too much for him.

    I’d rather they find the NEXT Angel Pagan who can be had really cheap. Couldn’t tell ya who that might be and if I could, well, I’d have Wren’s job right?

  24. I wouldn’t mind Pagan in center, but I think he’ll be fairly expensive actually and probably paid more than I feel he’s worth, since I don’t think he’s much more than average as a defender, granted I haven’t seen him play *that* many games and Bourn was spectacular as a comparison which might very well bias my opinion.

    Around the league rumours are that Toronto want to trade Escobar, which got a bit of a chuckle out of me.

  25. It’s the best time to take Cain off their hands if they’d let him go. He played injured this entire season, and they might even include him in a package for young pitching.

  26. I’ll admit that the schadenfreude feels amazing whenever Kozma fails to make a play and the umpire can’t bail him out.

  27. Loving this.

    Slightly OT, but the latest Joe Rogan podcast is a 3 hour interview with Victor Conte of Balco fame. I’m about 2 hours in and so far it has been a wide-ranging and totally fascinating conversation.

  28. Reading Twitter is fun right now.

    Cardinals end their season with an infield fly.

    melky feverishly creating fake web site with a headline proclaiming him NLCS MVP. #SFGiants


    Also, a bunch of people are tweeting “Happy flight” to Molina.

  29. @55

    Two original franchises who’ve never met in the Series before? OK, that’s pretty cool.

    The Tigers of the ’60s and early ’70s were an underappreciated group. If they’d played under today’s playoff rules, they would have been much more famous. Kaline, Freehan, McLain, Lolich, McAuliffe, Horton, Northrup, Cash, and a few lesser players all stayed with the franchise for years and years.

  30. @58

    It’s a sort of meme, starting in September last year, that the Cardinals chanted every time they won a game on a day in which they had to catch a flight somewhere. It’s remembered because it, of course, took them to a championship. Molina tweeted it after the wildcard game this year, which pissed a bunch of folks off.

  31. #59
    Giants were pretty good in the ’60s/early-’70s, too–Mays, McCovey, Cepeda, Marichal, Perry.

    Between 1961 & 1971, they averaged 90 wins a year, but only made the post-season twice.

  32. Jason has equal value in center or in right, assuming he can handle center. (I think he can.) His “worse” defense in center will be compensated for by his “better” bat. (Both relative to the league-average CF, obviously.) I’m all for moving him to center; easier to get a passable corner OF than a CF in this market.

  33. Molina, after the Braves lost that one-game playoff:

    “We played to win the game,” Molina said. “They played to lose the game.”

    Guess the Giants played to win the game, while the Cardinals played to lose the game?

  34. Would Hanson and Venters for Cain be just trade? I would do it. Would KC?

    And Anon, I would disagree with your statement unless you limited it to a passable LF. RF is a tough position and one of Jason’s biggest values is his ability to hold runners leaving from first, on a single, at 2nd. The value of his great arm would be neutralized in CF. His high WAR had much to do with his stellar defense and much less to do with his offensive performance. In, my opinion, his value would greatly decrease in CF. I am all in for moving Jason to CF on a temporary basis if it means we get a stellar RF, both offensively and defensively, but there doesn’t seem to be that player out there. Well, maybe Josh Hamilton. Pipedream!

  35. Our 2012 WS teams are near the bottom of their respective leagues in team defense. Of course the only defensive measures that matters is pitching, and they’ve got two of the best staffs in the game.

  36. What am I missing bout Cain? He cant find a starting position on a 70 win team.
    I would do Hanson for him, but not 2 MLB pitchers.

  37. Hanson for Cain?

    Nah, we’re gonna need Tommy to pry Wright away from IWOTM.

    Hanson, Pastornicky, and Bethancourt (although I would hate to include him) for Wright.

    smitty, what does your barber hear about Wright and where he’ll play next year?

  38. If the free agent market shakes out without us picking up a CF, I would probably trade Hanson for Cain plus a mediocre prospect. It’s easy to forget while having watched Hanson struggle so badly this year, but his track record of success at the major league level dwarfs anything Cain has done, and Cain is actually older than Hanson.

    But I’d prefer we try to spend our cash first.

  39. I wonder if the Braves stayed out of the Chris Young negotiations b/c they are committed to re-signing Bourn first?

  40. The Cardinals apparently don’t like being up 3-1 in the NLCS. Of course, this time they only got outscored 20-1 instead of 32-1.

  41. sansho, Tommy is a shell of the pitcher that he once was. His average velocity on his fastball has dropped 3 mph since his career began. Combine that with 2 of his secondary pitches staying somewhat the same velocity as they have been in the past. Now, Tommy has 2 pitches that normally stay within the same range as each other (cutter and slider), one pitch that used to be dominant, but looks to be easy to time (fastball), and one go to pitch if it’s on (curve). If he can’t find the curve, he’s doomed. If it’s shoulder issues, the time to trade Tommy was last offseason, but I’ll take this year.

  42. He had a bad year for reasons both understandable and head-scratching, but there’s a tendency to view what a player did most recently and just say “well, that’s who he is now”. That’s not necessarily the case, especially for a still-young pitcher with a good prior track record. He’s worth more than 1/2 of Lorenzo Cain, who has been practically mythic at times around here, considering what he’s actually accomplished.

  43. What about a package of A-Rod + Gardner + $70 mill or so for Hanson + Teheran or something like that?

    With CC probably going under the knife, the Yanks need pitching badly.

  44. I don’t think anyone thinks Cain is great. He’s just someone who we’re hoping is undervalued by his team because he could be better than his performance this year, is in his prime, could be replaced by a player most people regard to be better (Myers), and fits easily in our budget. We even match up well with the needs of the Royals.

    It could also be that Cain is just a PCL/ST creation or maybe one of those perpetually-injured players. CFers with bad legs aren’t very useful. But that’s the chance you take.

  45. Yanks wouldn’t give up Gardner, they can buy better pitching than that & why in the world would you want A-Rod right now?

    Ozzie Guillen… we will miss you. You were definitely my favorite Marlins manager.

  46. A-rod right now, all 112 OPS/2.0WAR of him, is likely a better hitter than any other 3B we could obtain not named Wright.

  47. Could we pry Brantley from the Indians for young pitching? If the talks go on long enough can we include Uggla for Kipnis? This post makes me feel dirty, like an AJCer or something worse. My main point is I would like to see us solve the outfield younger, rather than older. The free agent list looks like a money pit to me, beyond Bourn. I’m not so sure about Bourn, either.

  48. #83
    He gets hurt a lot now. His play at 3B has regressed to the point that the club was replacing him at the position. His performance vs RHP should be frightening enough to anyone who saw him the last month of the season & playoffs.

    If this were an APBA team of player cards, I might think about it, but it’s not. He appears to be breaking down.

    Plus, Prado had essentially the same year he did last year and he’s 9 years younger. Move Prado to 3B & get a LF, if nec., but I wouldn’t go near him at this point.

    BTW, A-Rod would have to approve any trade.

  49. Irrational confidence alert!

    Randall Delgado is going to be ‘3rd-starter-good’ this coming year!

    That is all.

  50. So lets assume the Yanks would be willing to eat $75M owed to Arod. Thats still leaves us with a 5/$39 deal plus incentives. Why not just move Prado to 3B and offer him close to that same 5/$40 extension?

  51. I didn’t say it was the best move, or even one that should be pursued – but you said “what would you want with him”. Depending on the circumstances involved – say Bourn took a sweetheart deal, and the Yanks gave a ton of salary relief – I can see where it “might” be defensible, that’s all. The guy is still an above average offensive 3B, and there is a non-trivial chance he recovers some form.

  52. The news from Buster Olney via mlbtraderumors about Mccann isn’t reassuring. Says the shoulder surgery was more extensive than anticipated and that picking up his $12 million option isn’t a guarantee. Even toys with the idea of Braves picking it up only to trade him.

    I know it’s rumor season and anything Olney says needs to be taken with a big hunk of sodium chloride, but still makes me feel uneasy.

  53. Well the prop bet would be 12M for 3months of McCann, the the inside track of resigning him to a long term deal if he recovers form, and the right to make him a qualifying offer and receive compensation if he leaves. So, yes, I’d do it, given what I know today.

  54. @94, And/or: $6 mil (or whatever the insurance doesn’t cover) for the ability to trade him for some short-term need before the deadline, as soon as he can show other teams he’s healthy.

    Someone has to say it… I’m pissed at McCann and/or whoever had him try to play through this injury.

  55. There were definitely times late in the season when you’d see him on the bench and know you were looking at an injured player.

  56. I am not impressed with the Braves medical staff in any way. Too many guys play through injuries just to get surgery anyway.

  57. Bowman tweeted something about Matheny, Ventura, Giambi, and one other guy possibly being managers and mentioned David Ross in the same vein.

    So I got to thinking (far-fetched) what if he became player/manager? What are the rules on that post-reserve clause? If we wanted to take him off the active roster, would we have to put our manager through waivers? Is it even a remotely feasible idea anymore, or has it gone the way of the 300 inning pitcher, et al?

  58. Waiting for some intrepid reporter to ask Wren why he couldn’t read the writing on the wall, re: McCann. We’re talking a .230/.300/.399 line this year.

    Be great if that reporter also asked McCann what happened to “learning my lesson” from the 2011 oblique injury and staying on the bench when he’s too hurt to contribute.

  59. Players never learn any lessons about playing through injury. Robb Nen ended his career by playing through injury in the 2002 postseason and he doesn’t regret it. David Ross and Brian McCann were both gimpy at the end of the year but the Braves were trying to win the division (and hold off the Phillies and Dodgers), and there was no chance that McCann was going to voluntarily take himself out of the lineup.

    It has to be up to the team to do it. I’m with oldtimer — the team has to take serious responsibility for allowing McCann to do this kind of damage to himself by playing during a time when he was clearly too hurt to be productive at the plate.

  60. That’s true, AAR. And I suppose if you’re McCann, you don’t want what’s happening right now to David Ortiz to happen to you, just for making the right decision.

  61. Gattis came to the plate tonight in the top of the ninth with 2 outs and 2 men on, down two runs. Hit a three run bomb to win it. He is going to be a fun story this year.

  62. I think it’s unreasonable to blame McCann for playing through the injury. It’s up to the management to make the decision. It’s just not the culture of professional sports for players to sit themselves unless they just can’t play at all. I guarantee if McCann had sat himself down, people would be all over him.

  63. He’d either get called out for not playing through an injury or he’d be revered for his wisdom and willingness to put the team first.

    It would depend on his place in the clubhouse and (especially) whether the team wins.

  64. Throw my name in the hat of folks who blame this on the Braves medical staff, not McCann.

    That said, learning that his shoulder was more messed up than previously thought just reaffirms my opinion that we need to let him walks after 2013.

  65. I guarantee if McCann had sat himself down, people would be all over him.

    Right. Remember when Chipper Jones sat himself down because of injury in 2007, and Smoltz was all over his case in the media?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *