Depending on where you stood, Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward was either the number one or two prospect heading into the 2010 season. He made the opening day roster and impressed right out of the gate. His 5.1 WAR for that season rank in the top 15 all-time for a season by a 20 year old. In no time the lofty comparisons arose, most notably by former Braves Manager Bobby Cox. Cox said that Heyward reminded him of Braves all-time great, Hank Aaron. That was a lofty comparison, but if anyone could live up to it, it was Heyward. After a great rookie year, Heyward struggled though but appears to be back this season. Let’s take a look at Heyward’s journey the past couple seasons and how he returned back to dominance.
As a young 20 year old, Jason Heyward’s career was whatever he wanted to make it. He didn’t take long. He established himself as a premiere outfielder right from the get-go, ranking in the top 15 in wOBA with a .376 mark, tied for first in overall BB% by walking 14.6% of the time and ranked number three in OBP by getting on-base 39% of the time. He showed above average power by posting a .179 ISO. He finished 13th in overall WAR with 5.1, that was higher than Ryan Braun, Ichiro and Andrew McCutchen. It looked as if Heyward was ready to take over baseball and eventually replace Chipper Jones as the face of the franchise. Than 2011 came.
2011 is a season that Heyward would like to forget, sooner rather than later. Heyward went from being a star to being slightly above average with the flip of the calender. His OBP and wOBA fell to .319 and .314 respectively. He saw a dip in his power as well, his ISO fell all the way to .162 which is slightly above average. What was wrong with Heyward? Was he going through the dreaded sophomore slump?
While pitchers surely adjusted to Heyward, a big part of his struggles can be attributed to a shoulder injury that plagued him for most of the season. In 2010 he hit a few too many groundballs, 55% of balls he hit were groundballs and in 2011 that trend continued as 53.9% of balls he hit were groundballs. In 2010 though he hit LD% 4% less, falling from 17% to 13%. He flyballs a good amount of the time but the number that really sticks out is his IFFB%. Last year he hit 22 IFFB, or IFFB 21.8% of the time, which is a really high number. His low BABIP certainly didn’t help either, his rookie year he had a BABIP of .335 but last year it fell all the way to .260. That’s a difference of 75 points which us huge.
This year it looks as if he’s finally healthy though. He’s in the top 20 when looking at all outfielders for wOBA with a .376 mark but that could change as other players regress. He isn’t walking as much so his .352 OBP ranks a little low but it’s a solid mark nonetheless. He has showed a nice spike in power though, he currently has an ISO of .229 which puts him in the top 20 when compared to all other outfielders. He’s on pace to about equal his WAR from his rookie year and his 3.1 WAR puts him in a tie for 9th when looking at outfielders as a whole.
Batted Ball Profile:
You can see that big contributor to Heyward’s power this year is the fact that he cut down on the amount of groundballs that he hit and instead is hitting more line drives and hitting more flyballs while limiting the amount of pop-ups. He’s also become more agressive at the plate, he’s swing at more balls outside of the strike zone while increasing his contact on balls outside the zone.
In 2012 he became much more aggressive and the results have followed. If he can stay healthy and continue to do his thing he should continue to develop into one of the game’s best players, and he doesn’t even turn 23 until August.