Jason Heyward and GB%

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I feel like I haven’t talked about Jason Heyward as much as I probably should have. I was constantly reading about his woes, and shoulder issues, and change of pace at the plate, etc. on other sites so I figured you guys had enough of that too. But with Spring Training on the horizon it’s probably a good idea to take a look at what was wrong with Jason Heyward last year and what could hold him back in the future.

The first topic will be a bit briefer than the second because no one really knows why Jason Heyward had such a rough season. The most likely reasons however, are the shoulder issues he suffered throughout the season as well as an entire year being influenced by Larry Parrish. If you don’t know Larry Parrish brought an extremely aggressive approach to the team and even Chipper Jones (14.3 BB% for his career and 16% or higher the past three seasons) saw a significant drop in his walk rate.

Jason Heyward’s walk rate in 2011 was 11.2%. That is still an above average walk rate but he dropped off three points from his rookie season (14.6%) when we would expect it to stay the same or improve. It is possible that Heyward’s freshman campaign was an above average plate discipline year for him but it is unlikely. Here are Heyward’s walk rates in advanced leagues the past couple of years:

the rest after the break…

  • 14.4%- AA, 2009
  • 15.4%- AAA, 2009
  • 14.6%- MLB, 2010
  • 14.3%- AAA, 2011

I think it is safe to say that Heyward was affected by Larry Parrish and an unhealthy shoulder. We have a new hitting coach, and Jason is expected to be 100% healthy by Spring Training. So there’s no need to worry, he will turn into the middle of the order juggernaut we expected, hitting 30 home runs, as well as setting a new record in bobble-head sales right? Well there is one pretty important set back.

That’s where the ground ball percentage comes into play. As you know, the best ways to pad your long ball stats are to hit the ball in the air, and hit the ball with enough power to make it over the fence. Jason Heyward has struggled big time with the first part of that strategy.

In 2010—a fantastic rookie season by any standard—he had a GB% of 55.1%. The next year—not so great—his GB% was sitting at 53.9%. Heyward ranks seventh on the ground ball leaders since 2010 list, in between Yunel Escobar and Michael Bourn. While both of these guys are talented players, they are talented for defensive reasons (and speed in Bourn’s case) more so than offensive.

In a list of the best home run hitters for the past two seasons you have to go all the way down to the 36th spot before you find a guy with a ground ball percentage greater than 50 (Hunter Pence, 52.3% 47 homers). After Pence you have to go down 43 more spots before you find the next guy with a plus 50 BB%. Turns out that guy is Jason Heyward with 32 home runs.

Call me crazy, but I believe Jason has the potential to hit for more power than Hunter Pence (22 or more homers the past four years). If he is going to do this, and especially if he is going to eclipse 30, he will need to cut his groundball percentage to around 45% or less. He isn’t the kind of player that can afford to hit the ball into the ground and beat it out for a hit. We need to leave that skill to Michael Bourn.

Jason Heyward can be a really good player if he gets healthy and goes back to being more patient in the box, but if he can get his ground ball percentage down, he will join the elite players in the game.

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Tags: 2012 Projections Atlanta Braves Jason Heyward

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