First off, let’s just throw out the notion of Heyward living up to his 8yr/$184 mil contract that he signed with the Cubs, because there is no way he makes that kind of turnaround at this point. His offense has been bad for two years now, and I think this is just the player that he has become. But, his defense has been fantastic, as expected. So the big question is, is his defense enough to keep him in the lineup, both down the stretch and into the post season?
Let’s start off by talking about his offensive numbers. This year, Heyward is slashing .257/.320/.382, all of which are a big step up from where they were last year (not that that’s saying much). And despite the fact that those numbers aren’t great, that isn’t the troubling part. What’s troubling is his numbers in the 2nd half. Since the beginning of August, his OPS is just .664 with a WRC+ of 76, meaning he has absolutely no power. He has just 6 extra base hits in that time (4 doubles, 2 homers) in 129 at bats. Jason Heyward ranks 219th (out of 231) in hard contact percentage among players with at least 400 plate appearances. He just is not hitting the ball hard, which is the biggest problem of all.
So, is his glove enough to keep him in the line up consistently? He ranks 4th in defensive runs saved for all outfielders in the MLB with 17 (trailing only Buxton, Betts, and Puig). In fact, he ranks in the top 10 in every single important defensive category. Long story short- he is a top of the line, elite defender. He ranks 8th in all of baseball in defensive runs saved. His glove is the only reason he sees the field consistently.
In the long run, I think his elite defense is enough to allow him to play consistently going forward. I think you just keep sending him out there and hope he is an average hitter, because I certainly don’t expect him to get back to the level he was at before joining the Cubs. He is a top tier defender, and that isn’t something that comes around too often. His offense is terrible, and I think you will see his playing time reduced the closer and closer we get to the postseason, and ultimately I think he will see a good chunk of his playing time come as a late inning defensive replacement for the likes of Schwarber or even Zobrist.
Fun fact: Heyward ranks 10th on the Cubs in WAR behind Bryant (6.2), Rizzo (4.4), Contreras (3.2), Baez (1.9), Happ (1.6), Jay (1.4), Russell (1.3), Schwarber (1.2), and Albert Almora (1.1).
In other words, START ALBERT ALMORA.