Heyward and Upton: Unrealized Potential

March 04, 2013; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (right) and center fielder B.J. Upton (2) before the spring training game against the New York Mets at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Braves have a couple of obvious problems right now.  They have at least a couple of players who have great potential, but have not been able to turn their potential into success.  Jason Heyward has proven in his 3+ years in the league that he has a great deal of potential offensive talent, but I would argue that he has never broken out and showed the kind of offensive talent that most believe he has.  I don’t even think you would get an argument from Jason on that.  There’s no question he is talented defensively, and winning a gold glove in the 2012 season proves that aptly enough, but what the Braves need from Jason is for him to figure out how to be consistently strong with his bat.  There has always been that feeling among Braves fans and the organization alike, that you just expect a little bit more out of  a player that was picked 14th in the 1st round of the 2007 draft.

Heyward is still recovering from his placement on the DL due to an emergency appendectomy, and has already began his rehab assignment in the minors, but before Jason went on the DL he was hitting for a dismal .121 BA, an OBP of just .261 and a SLG of just .259.  Add to those low numbers the fact that this season, Jason has only 2 homers for a batter expected to deliver much more on that stat, and it’s clear he is in a slump he’s having trouble getting out of.  I’m not trying to simply criticize Jason here, but rather to point out that nagging feeling that almost everyone has, that he should be much more productive after 3+ years in the majors than he has been.

If we compare his numbers over his short career to that of Freddie Freeman, you begin to see where his potential is there, but performance is lacking.  Freddie Freeman was also selected in the 2007 draft, selected in the 2nd round instead of the 1st round, but has better numbers overall than Jason.  Granted, the numbers are not substantially different at first glance, but if you break the numbers down in the tables below with a fine-tooth comb, you begin to see a problem with Heyward.  He has had moments where he has been amazing, but too often moments where he struggles and cannot seem to get out of the funk.

Freddie Freeman over a 3 year period / 4 year cumulative

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
2011 157 635 571 67 161 32 0 21 76 53 142 .282 .346 .448
2012 147 620 540 91 140 33 2 23 94 64 129 .259 .340 .456
2013 22 94 85 13 25 4 0 2 19 8 18 .294 .362 .412
4 Yrs 346 1373 1220 174 330 70 2 47 190 125 297 .270 .342 .447
162 Game Avg. 162 643 571 81 155 33 1 22 89 59 139 .270 .342 .447
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/11/2013.

Jason Heyward over a 3 year period / 4 year cumulative

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
2011 128 456 396 50 90 18 2 14 42 51 93 .227 .319 .389
2012 158 651 587 93 158 30 6 27 82 58 152 .269 .335 .479
2013 17 69 58 8 7 2 0 2 5 8 12 .121 .261 .259
4 Yrs 445 1799 1561 234 399 79 13 61 201 208 385 .256 .349 .440
162 Game Avg. 162 655 568 85 145 29 5 22 73 76 140 .256 .349 .440
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/11/2013.

 

The other problem for the Atlanta Braves is BJ Upton.  Granted, BJ has substantially more experience in the majors than either Freeman or Heyward, but in my opinion, when you are paying a player $12.5 million, and he was selected as the 2nd pick in the 1st round of the 2002 draft, you expect more out of him as well.  Don’t get me wrong!  Every player has moments of struggle and seasons of slump, but if you take a look at the last three years for BJ Upton, with numbers for a 9 year cumulative, you begin to see that he has unrealized potential as well.

BJ Upton over a 3 year period / 9 year cumulative

Year G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG
2011 153 640 560 82 136 27 4 23 81 71 161 .243 .331 .429
2012 146 633 573 79 141 29 3 28 78 45 169 .246 .298 .454
2013 32 134 118 8 18 4 0 3 6 13 44 .153 .241 .263
9 Yrs 998 4197 3686 547 928 206 20 121 453 443 1064 .252 .333 .417
162 Game Avg. 162 681 598 89 151 33 3 20 74 72 173 .252 .333 .417
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/11/2013.

 

When I look at the numbers, I first wonder why the Braves agreed to pay BJ Upton what they are paying him, but I also see a player who while he might not be expected to tear up the NL East with his bat, should at least be producing more than a .153 BA, and a .241 OBP.  Braves fans just expect players to produce in keeping with their capability, and their pay, and that’s not too much to expect.  I realize also that others players in the Braves organization struggle at times, but when I talk to fans I get this strong sense that people just expect more out of Jason, and certainly expect more from BJ based on what he is paid.

Both BJ Upton and Jason Heyward have a lot of potential talent.  They were both drafted high, and have proven at times that they can produce with the best of them.  Lately though, they both seem to be in a slump that appears to be a bottomless pit.  No, I know they will eventually come out of the funk, but how patient will Braves fans be, and even if they come out of the funk, how long will any consistency last?  More importantly, how patient will Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez be with players who cannot seem to produce, when you have other players like Jordan Schafer and Reed Johnson who seem hungry, ready to play, and are consistently producing when they get the opportunities?  It will be interesting to see how well Jason Heyward does in his rehab games, and after returning to the Atlanta Braves how Freddie will decide to use him.  I’m personally about out of patience with BJ Upton, and feel it is time  that Fredi Gonzalez begins to give serious though to sitting him on the bench to clear the cobwebs.  Because I am a Braves fan, I sincerely support all players, slumping or not, and sincerely hope that both BJ Upton and Jason Heyward will turn things around and be the players we know they can be.  I suppose only time will tell, but in the meantime the Braves have a couple of players at least who have a great deal of unrealized potential.  Here’s to hoping they will realize it soon.

 

Topics: Atlanta Braves, FanSided

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  • Lee Trocinski

    Derrek Lee, Tino Martinez, Cliff Floyd, and Jason Varitek are the best players ever chosen 14th overall. Heyward, at 23 years old, has already produced half the career WAR of those players. Also, Heyward and Freeman have an identical 113 OPS+ in their careers.

    I wasn’t happy when B.J. was signed, especially with the extra $20M over the Phillies offer. His strikeouts are a problem, but his pop-up rate over 25% is just as alarming. He seems to be squaring the ball up a bit more lately, but if things don’t improve much soon, he needs a renovation of mechanics. Schafer is starting to remember that he isn’t very good, so B.J. still looks like a viable option at this point.

    • cheadrick

      Yeah, as I said, JHey and Freddie’s numbers are comparable, although Freeman’s overall are arguably better. The point I wanted to make is that there was always just a higher expectation for JHey, and expectation that is still there, which he has never broken out and risen to.

  • fireboss

    BJ was a case of Wren with a blank check to spend on a star to offset the loss of Chipper Jones. He’s shown in the past that he gets an idea and doesn’t care that a player’s numbers are deteriorating, or that in the case of KK were never good enough to be a major league pitcher, he will do anything to sign that player. When the Yankees stankfully stole AJ Burnett away from him he gave Lowe the extra year and $10M no one else would give him to make sure he got a pitcher. Lowe lasted as long as others thought he would and one year less than he was signed for. The market for BJ was about 11M a year max in Philly paying him $4m a year more guaranteed a name signing for the fans. Even if he was the player his numbers say he should be he was not the kind of player the Braves needed after losing Bourn. Wren himself said he wanted a leadoff man but he signed BJ instead. I ran a small search this evening while discussing BJ with my son. Since his career year of 2008 BJ’s line is .248/.330/.416. If you look at all CF’s with 3000 PA during that time BJ is 11th in OPS, 9th in slugging and OBP and 7th in home runs. He is second to Bourn in steals but also second in caught stealing and with his OBP sliding those steal don’t happen. BJ gets a small pass for changing leagues, Wren made that case comparing him to Adam Dunn in the process. The problem is that BJ was never in Dunn’s class as a hitter, run producer or on base guy and will never earn this contract.

    Heyward as all the Atlanta sabermetric guys will tell you (Hi Lee) can’t fail to be successful. If you take out this injury year Heyward has been better than just good. As Lee says big big WAR numbers for a young man. Heyward is in danger of becoming Atlanta’s Justin Upton. So much hype, so many saying he can’t fail, so many saying play him in spite of his injury because he’s better like that than a fit player who isn’t as talented. That’s an almost impossible expectation to live up to. Fans forget how young Heyward is and this year having the “face of the Braves’ tattooed across his forehead has added extra weight. McCann’s return and hitting should ease that pressure but when he goes it will return. Heyward hasn’t ducked, he’s stepped forward given interviews made the appearance expected of the face of teh franchise and he’s struggled due to it. When he started slowly he put pressure on himself to get better. The more he’s pressed the worse he became. The injury gave him a window of relief, a time he can go back to thinking only about baseball and hitting. That’s part of the reason (I think) he’s taking a few days to get back. The test will be when he gets back and if his hitting improves. McCann needs to step into that lead role and protect Jason. To say Heyward’s potential is unrealized ignores the fact that he’s just 23. I wonder how many of us have realized our potential at 23? talent and skill dooesn not mean immediate success in any field particularly on a baseball field where failing 7 out of 10 times is considered success. Heyward will be fine. The fans should relax and remember what they were doing at 23 and take a step back from their unrealistic expectations.

    • cheadrick

      Very nice points Fred.

    • Jeff Schafer

      I’d be real happy with a .248/.330/.416 line right now from BJ…

      I’m predicting JHey to come back to form when he returns within the next week…

  • cheadrick

    I don’t disagree that Jason is a good player, and that he will be, as you put it, “fine”. The point I was trying to make in the article is simply that there are expectations and potential yet unrealized in Jason Heyward. I think he will be fine too, but sabermetric numbers aside (WAR), the expectations for much more performance are not, in my opinion, unrealistic. If you compare his numbers to that of Freeman, they are just not as good year-in, year-out. They are comparable as I said, but the sentiment surrounding Jason is that his numbers should simply be better than they are. I look each year for Jason to have that break-out year, and I’m just not convinced yet he has it in him to do it. I hope I’m wrong.

    • Lee Trocinski

      Freeman hasn’t had a season at 3 WAR yet, while Heyward has had 2 5-WAR seasons. Only 25 players can say that at age 22 in MLB history. Jason sacrificed patience and walks for power, so he’s basically at his peak level. I’m fine with 5 WAR a year for the next 10 years.

      • cheadrick

        I hear you. I just disagree with the growing contingent of those who belive WAR is the definitive measure of a players worth. We shall just have to agree to disagree. :)

        • Lee Trocinski

          Chris, if you have any questions about WAR and its components, feel free to e-mail me. I agree it’s not definitive, but it incorporates all facets of the game and has plenty of data to support its use.

      • fireboss

        Like Freeman Heyward is a far more dangerous hitter when he hits gap to gap. He’s strong enough that the home runs will come without trying to lift and separate every time. His dWAR pushed his 2012 WAR to 5.8 (down from 6.4 in 2010) when his oWar dropped last year even though his power numbers went up. His OBP was down 60 and his OPS down 30. Walks were down37 and K’s up 24.

        The Heyward we signed that had all those mad skills and got everyone drooling is not the player we see now. I’m not fine with 10- 5 WAR seasons, he’s a much better player than that. We signed a 5 tool player not a slugger. If he returns to the player we signed, a 6 WAR year will be the floor and a 7.5 will be the norm.

        • Lee Trocinski

          I think he can be a better hitter, but he won’t be able to sustain +15 fielding for much longer. Only 26 players have had at least 7 6-WAR seasons, and expecting Heyward to be a Top 25-50 player of all-time seems outlandish. Larry Walker only had 3 such seasons, and I’d be quite satisfied if Jason matched his career.

          • fireboss

            I agree 7 such seasons is a bit much, he isn’t Pujols or A-Rod and doesn’t have Bonds chemical alterations. I do think he’s a better player than Murphy who had 4- 6+ War year and while he might not have five seasons (3 of 7+, an 8+ and a 9) like Utley barring injury I don’t think 5 6+ is out of the question. He’s 3 and if his legs stay healthy he should improve in the field through age 29 or 30. We’re not disagreeing on his abilities it’s whether we think he can sustain a high level of play in the field & at the plate. It’s sort of an extension of that old cliche, if what you were doing got you here why change? Hone those areas of superiority instead of trying to do something you aren’t as good a,t like for instance being a slugger. Here’s a bad comparison. Before Jordan Schafer hit a couple of home runs he thought he was a put it in play and run like hell guy. After he hit a couple he decided he could hit a bunch but he couldn’t and he lost what got him to the top. I never saw a projection that Jason was a 40 homer bat or even a 35 homer bat. He can hit 20-25 every year using his original approach – watching the zone and taking his doubles while lifting that pitch into the left field seats when it’s left up and turning on the low inside pitch when it’s left in his sweet spot.

          • Lee Trocinski

            His original approach led to 55% groundballs. His swing rates are closer to 2010 levels so far this year, but he’s hit a lot of lazy flyballs. Pitchers figured out to go inside on him, which he responded to by being more aggressive, cheating on that pitch. If he’s patient again, he needs to be able to react, and not cheat, to the inside pitch to be anywhere near as successful as 2010.

  • Guest

    I don’t disagree that Jason is a good player, and that he will be, as you put it, “fine”. The point I was trying to make in the article is simply that there are expectations and potential yet unrealized in Jason Heyward. I think he will be fine too, but sabermetric numbers aside (WAR), the expectations for much more performance are not, in my opinion, unrealistic. If you compare his numbers to that of Freeman, they are just not as good year-in, year-out. They are comparable as I said, but the sentiment surrounding Jason is that his numbers should simply be better than they are. I look each year for Jason to have that break-out year, and I’m just not convinced yet he has it in him to do it. I hope I’m wrong.

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