Jason Heyward is bad at hitting baseballs. This is a fact, at least for this season. He has been 17% WORSE than the league average, thus far this season. He currently has a slash line of .236/.326/.326. Yes, you read that right, he has an identical OBP and Slugging Percentage. It’s not a great number for the OBP, but it is flat-out awful for a slugging percentage, especially for a guy who is supposed to be an elite hitting and hit around 20 homers per season.
Despite these awful numbers, I believe he can certainly turn it around here in the 2nd half of the season. His K-Rate is only up 3% this season, which is a bit of a jump, but is by no means alarming. His Walk-Rate is also up 1.5% from last season, which is helpful. His biggest issue is his hard/soft contact rates. Heyward’s hard contact rate is down nearly 5%, and his soft contact rate is up just over 5%. This accounts for many of his problems this season. He is actually hitting more line drives this season than he has at any point in his career, 22.2%, and his ground ball percentage is down 10% from last season. What this tells us is that he really is having a lot of bad luck. His BABIP (the luck stat) is .285, which is about 15 points below the league average (usually around .300), and is a whopping 44 points (!) lower than his .329 from last season. Now, no one could have assumed it would stay that high, as that is an incredible rate for a full season, but to have fallen to .285, that is just bad luck. He is putting the ball in play, they just aren’t falling. It feels like every time he hits the ball hard it is either right at someone, or they make an incredible play on him.
These stats by no means make him a bad player. The numbers are certainly deceiving, but make no mistake about it, Heyward is still a very valuable piece for this year’s Cubs team. His fielding has been outstanding this year, and he has certainly shown why he is a Gold Glove winner. He has yet to make an error so far this season, and in addition to that, he is making plays on balls that are rated “Unlikely” to be caught on FanGraphs 66.7% of the time. Those plays have a probability of being made 10-40% of the time. Offensively, he is worth 8.9 runs fewer than the league average (again, thanks FanGraphs), but in the field he is worth 12.5 above the league average. He has been fantastic in the field.
Despite all of these stats, I would have assumed that Heyward’s WAR would be hovering right around 0, but in reality, he is still worth 1.4 wins. This is mostly based on his defense alone, but it still good to see. I think he can turn it around this season, and I think that Maddon moving him down in the lineup to the 6-8 range will help him gain some confidence. That is a big part of hitting, and it is some that Heyward certainly doesn’t have right now. I think his bat will come around, all he needs is a bit of time. His BABIP should regress closer to the norm, and that will bring up his average. For the time being, lets just continue to watch him make fantastic plays in the field and hope his bat comes around.
Check out this piece on Heyward and his zone on FanGraphs: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/the-hole-in-jason-heywards-swing-is-glaring/
And to make yourself feel better about Heyward, check out some of his defensive highlights from this season: