Will Jason Heyward finally break out with a full and healthy season of all-star offense to match his all-world defense? Will he ever put together the kind of year that both the numbers-counters and advanced-metric types agree upon? Trust me, you can make yourself crazy trying to figure it out.
Since his eye-opening, 6.4-WAR rookie campaign in 2010 (.277/.393/.456, 131 OPS+), itâ€™s been a career of fits and starts for the RF, complete with transcendent moments (like this, this and this) and almost every kind of season-interrupting misfortune (nagging thumb, hamstring and shoulder injuries, an appendectomy, a beaning).
Projecting Heyward seasons (and, thus, estimating his future payday) has become an off-season sport in recent years. Itâ€™s a noble and interesting project, but given Heywardâ€™s injuries and the (possibly injury-impacted) inconsistencies in so many offensive categories each season, you may be better off just crossing your fingers.
Perhaps true to the norm, Heywardâ€™s 2013 season saw some fleeting excellence, but plenty of interruption. As the JUpton-powered Braves blazed to an early division lead,
Heyward got off to a brutal start on and off the field. Three weeks of offensive ineptitude (.121/.261/.259) was followed with the emergency surgery and another three weeks away from the field. On his return, it took him about another 15 games to get going, butâ€¦ whoa, when he did, he was an offensive force.
On June 1, he was sitting at .146/.290/.243. The rest of the seasonâ€”again, twice interrupted by injuryâ€”saw him go .297/.376/.500. This included the 30-game stretch where he hit leadoff, going .322/.401/.551. Tantalizing, huh?
It should also be noted that, when manager Fredi Gonzalez ran out of patience with B.J. Upton and his season-long funk, he moved Heyward to CF, where he showed impressive range. For the â€™13 season, Heyward finished .254/.349/.427, 111 OPS+, 3.6 WAR (including 1.4 dWAR). For his career, heâ€™s sitting at .259/.352/.443 (115 OPS+), 18.4 WAR (including 5.0 dWAR).
His Weird 2013 Platoon Splits: He had a mild reverse platoon split last year, hitting .250/.352/.415 in 316 PA against righties compared to.264/.347/.455 in 124 PA against lefties. Certainly, that was not in accordance with his career numbersâ€”.273/.370/.426 against RHP and .232/.312/.377 vs LHPâ€”like most left-handed hitters, he has typically hit worse when he faces southpaws. Weâ€™re only talking 124 PA vs LHP in â€™13, but if those numbers continue to rise, that would be pretty sweet.
2013 Home-Road Splits: Hereâ€™s another example of Heywardâ€™s occasional statistical weirdness: While he was terrific this year at The Ted (.294/.371/.502 in 250 PA), he plainly sucked on the road (.199/.321/.323 in 190 PA). In his career, his OPS has been .786 at home and .803 on the road, so Iâ€™m not going to strain my brain trying to figure this one out.
Other stuff: Also, after a year that saw him go 21-for-29 in stolen base attempts, he only tried six in 2013 (and was only successful twice). Certainly, the injuries hampered him, but the Braves didnâ€™t try to steal very much in 2013, relying on its impressive power game. Additionally, Heywardâ€™s walk rate rose a bit (10.9% up from 8.9%) and his K rate dropped noticeably (16.6% down from 23.3%).
Post-Season: His big October moment came in Game 2 of last yearâ€™s NLDS, when he laced a 2-run single off tough LOOGY Paco Rodriguez for the winning margin in the Bravesâ€™ lone series victory. He hit a late-inning homer in the blowout Game-3 loss & had 4 RBI in the series, but ended up going 3 for 18 with no BB and 7 Ks (167/167/333). Itâ€™s obviously still early in his career, but so far his overall post-season numbers havenâ€™t been so good. In three losing October visits (40 PA), Heyward has struck out 16 times and earned only one BB, going 154/175/256.
Two Big Years Ahead: Speaking for myself, there are few current Braves players I enjoy watching as much as Jason Heyward. (Check these â€™13 highlights.) When heâ€™s right, heâ€™s something else.
And as everyone knows by now, the Braves avoided all kinds of drama by buying out Heywardâ€™s last two arb-eligible years with a two-year/$13.3 M contract that runs thru 2015.
After that, who knows? But, in the short term at least, Iâ€™ll join the legions of Braves fans hoping to see a pair of Heyward mega-seasons (not to mention a pennant or better). As for the next contract, weâ€™ll cross that bridge when we get thereâ€” once Heyward hits the ripe old age of 26.