It seems like we are always waiting for Jason to put everything together again... (Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)

Is Jason Heyward the Superstar we all thought he would be?

I have tried to hold off on writing this piece for a while because it just seemed wrong to play debby downer, and I definitely considered not bothering after Jason Heyward’s 3-hit (plus a walk) game last night but I figured that would just make me lazy.

So let’s get right into it. In 2010 Jason Heyward produced absolutely ridiculous numbers for a player of his age: .277/.393/.456 with 18 home runs, a 14.6 BB%, and 5.1 WAR. He followed that up by playing 128 games in 2011 with a .227/.319/.389 with 14 home runs, a 11.2 BB%, and 2.2 WAR. So far this season he is hitting .235/.325/.408, with 6 homers, a 10.8 BB%, and 1.5 WAR.

The point of this article is not to say that Jason Heyward is a bad baseball player and that he should be traded away just like Jeff Francoeur. Jason is a good baseball player, without a doubt but is it time to stop talking about him being the face of the franchise, or even great?

The comparison to Francoeur may be unwanted but that doesn’t mean it’s not half bad. Jeff Francoeur had a great rookie season with the Braves where he hit .300/.336/.549 with the team for 70 games. Frenchy was immediately hyped up as the next face of the franchise, he turned down a contract from the team because it wasn’t enough, and proceeded to fade away from the limelight of major league baseball. To be fair to Francoeur, he has done well in Kansas City and is has been experiencing a solid major league career.

But that’s why I love this comparison so much. What if Jason Heyward followed a similar path? What if he faded away from the focus of Major League Baseball and all of the casual fans (he has already started to do that) and simply has a solid career somewhere? While that won’t be a tragedy, it will be far from what everyone was expecting of the J-Hey kid.

Since his phenomenal rookie season Jason has hit just .230/.321/.395 with 20 homeruns and 3.7 WAR. To put that in perspective for you, Josh Reddick has more home runs and compiled more WAR while playing 40 less games than Heyward in that same period of time.

The first thing to check when a player is struggling is the BABIP and Batted Ball rates. This has been done for Jason Heyward more than any other player in history so there is no need in doing it again now. His line drive rate in 11 helped explain the lower BABIP and also let us put the blame on his shoulder (which probably had a lot to do with Heyward’s fall from grace). His rates are better than ever before this year, and he has managed to cut down on the ground balls and increase the fly balls, which is what I previously said he needed to do to be successful.

Well, if he is doing these things, then what’s up? The next thing I looked into was his plate discipline numbers, and they actually proved to be pretty interesting:

*data from the always fantastic Fangraphs

Year O-Swg% Z-Swg % Swg % O-Con.% Z-Con. % Con. % SwStr %
2010 24.2 58.8 39.4 64.0 87.1 79.1 8.0
2011 28.8 66.4 44.7 63.4 85.3 77.1 9.9
2012 32.2 65.8 46.5 67.3 77.1 73.2 12.1

*Quick little helper for the categories above:

  • O-Swg% = outside of the zone swing percentage
  • Z-Swg% = in the zone swing percentage
  • Swg% = swing percentage
  • O-Con% = outside of the zone contact percentage
  • Z-Con% = in the zone contact percentage
  • Con% = contact percentage
  • SwStr% = swinging strike percentage

Most of these numbers have pretty much been going in the wrong direction for three years. Jason has been swinging the bat more at balls out of the zone more and more each year. He has made contact with balls out of the zone more and more each year, he has made contact with pitches in the zone less each year, and his swinging strike percentage has gone up every year.

The big number to look at is the Z-Contact percentage. In 2010 the league average for contact in the zone was 88.1%. Heyward was slightly below this with 87.1%. In 2011 the league average was 87.9% and Heyward had an 85.3% mark. In 2012 Heyward has a 77.1% Z-Contact rate compared to the league average of 87.1%.

His swinging strike percentage is also a troubling number to look at, as he is now significantly worse than the league average in this category. The number hasn’t fluctuated much throughout the league (8.5%, 8.6%, 8.8% from 2010 to 2012 respectively) but Jason’s have gone up every year. This season he is swinging and missing 12.1% of the time.

All of these things are likely a big part in why his numbers aren’t where everyone thinks they should be. It also shows us why his walk rate has gone down since 2010 and his K rate has gone up. It probably also shows us why his power numbers still aren’t there.

In 2010 he had 18 homeruns because he hit half of his balls on the ground. In 2011 he hit 14 home runs because he was injured and still hit balls on the ground. In 2012 he has 6 homeruns and isn’t on pace to hit much more than 20 for the third time in his career. This year is different however and his lack luster power numbers are more due to the pitches he is deciding to swing at (and his success rate hitting these pitches) than not hitting the ball in the air.

In 2012 his HR/FB rate is all the way down to 11.5%. In 2010 and 2011 his HR/FB rates were at 16.8% and 13.9% respectively. There are several different conclusions we can draw from this.

  1. Jason is swinging at and making contact with too many bad pitches and missing the ones he should be hitting.
  2. Something is still wrong with his swing, as he is missing 12.1% of the pitches he is swinging at.
  3. He is trying to live up to everyone’s expectations and is really pressing too much in the batter’s box.

Regardless of what the problem actually is, Jason Heyward is underperforming, at least to the standard most people are holding him to. That’s definitely okay, Jason is human like the rest of us, and it’s probable that he doesn’t ever reach his full potential just like 99% of the other prospects in baseball. Even without reaching his Hall of Fame caliber potential, Heyward is a good baseball player… but can the Braves win a World Series if that’s all he can manage?

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Jason Heyward

  • leetro

    Everyone knows Jason can’t hit a fastball belt-high or further up, no matter the velocity.  If that pitch is 91 or slower, they should be crushed , and Heyward isn’t touching them.  Also, your definition of SwStr% is actually Contact%.  The percentage of SWINGS missed is 1 minus Contact%, while SwStr% is the percentage of ALL pitches that results in a whiff.  It seems like he still has a bat wrap in his load, making his swing longer than it needs to be, which explains the vulnerability to high pitches.  If he can load without turning his shoulders, he would shorten the path of the barrel to the ball, hopefully helping him make more solid contact.

  • FredOwens

     @leetro makes a superb point. Jason’s swing was never the ooooo ahhhh swing lots of folks made it out to be but it was quicker to the ball than it is now. he always had a little hitch at the back of the swing and that hitch has increased from 2011 forward. Because of his swing he’s not a typical left handed hitter like say Freeman. If you miss low and in with Freddie look for it in the second deck in right because he’ll drop the bat head on it and drive it. Jason’s best stroke is actually letters to halfway to the knees towards the outside part of the plate.
    Now before I say this I know Jason is not Frenchy. However, if you look at Frenchy’s hot spot it’s the mirror image of Jason’s but it also includes low and down the middle.
    Those two links may require insider membership if so let me know and I’ll capture them for you.
    Looking deeper at the Fangraphs numbers Frenchy has ALWAYS had a higher Z swing and Z contact and that translates to hitting more balls on the screws. Using 3rd year numbers for both Jason swings at 65 of 100 pitches in the zone and hits 50. Frenchy swings at 80 in zone pitches and hits 65. Out of zone Frenchy hits 27 to Jason’s 21. In the same number of pitches Frenchy puts more balls in play. Frenchy’s K% is below 20% in every year except his first -70 game – year when it was 21. Jason’s has never been below 20. And except for 2008  Frenchy’s 4th year and 2010 when he changed leagues mid year, his slg% has always been higher as well.
    Jason’s ISO is higher primarily because of the structure of the stat. He has significant less ABs than Frenchy and only part of that is the number of walks Jason gets. Frenchy was a 5 and 6 hole hitter for the Braves Jason has rarely hit in the middle of the order so Frenchy got more plate time and more time in run producing situation. That explains Frenchy’s other lead; RBI.  He’s had less than 70 RBI twice, his first year and the year he changed leagues.
    In the end with all of his faults Frenchy’s first three years produced more runs for a weaker team than Jason has.
    Frenchy’s issues were a hard headed determination not to change anything about his swing or his plate approach. Bobby got fed up with his attitude and sent him to hell in NY.
    Jason at least listens to the hitting coaches but have you seen any significant changes this year? And, when it comes to being hard headed about approach at the plate, does the name Brian McCann ring any bells?
    Jason’s on course for 78 wRc this year. If that happens the difference in wRC in their first three full years will be 10; 218 for Frenchy and 228 for Jason.
    So no Jason isn’t exactly Frenchy. He strikes out more, drives in fewer runs, and swings at more bad pitches. If he doesn’t get that loop/hitch/or whatever out of his swing, enhance his plate discipline and improve his plate coverage he may well be playing for Kansas City in 3 years or so.
    I will now go put on armor and duck the rotten tomatoes I know will fly my way. I’m not sure why Jason gets the pass Frenchy didn’t get but I wonder how it would be if Bobby was skipper instead of fearless Fosdick  err Fredi.

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