by Eno Sarris //
He has plenty of upside over the rest of his career. He’s very exciting and he’s young (22). He has excellent plate discipline. He looks like an athletic masher. He can play a fine corner outfield. But Jason Heyward is over-rated when it comes to his production over the rest of this season. And the key is where he’s hitting the ball.
First, let’s go over the components of batting average.
One component is contact, since the batting average on a strikeout is zero. Heyward is striking out almost exactly as much (24.3%) as he did last year (24.6%), and both numbers are worse than the national average (20% most years). He also whiffs on more swings (10%) than the average hitter (8.5%), so his per-pitch numbers support the fact that he makes contact at a below-average rate. Only four qualified batters that have struck out over 24% of the time this year have a batting average over .280, and among those four, the lowest BABIP is .344. If one or two of them still end up with a good batting average by the end of the year, that small group probably won’t include Heyward.
Another part of batting average is speed. Heyward is an athletic fellow, and has 15 stolen bases so far in his young career. He’s also only been successful on 65% of his attempts, which is below the break-even point — you need to get the extra base twice out of every three times to make the gamble ‘worth it.’ Bill James has a four-component speed score that uses triples, runs, stolen bases and stolen base success rates to judge a player’s speed in the context of the league. A 5.0 speed score is average. Heyward has a 4.8 so far in his career. He’s got average speed, but not enough that you can expect him to beat out a slow dribbler to short.
The last component of batting average is also important for the rest of non-batting average value: power. He’ll steal some bases, he might even up that batting average a little once his current BABIP (.263) moves, but that power is the key to his value the rest of this year. We know that fly balls offer more power — around 10% of them leave the park, and they have a much higher slugging percentage than ground balls (.547 to .252 around the league this year). Well, Heyward just hits too many ground balls. He’s now hit 55% of his balls on the ground over his first season and a half. He’s also hit close to two ground balls to every fly ball so far.
That would be good enough to be the tenth-highest ground-ball rate in the major leagues among qualified batters this year. Only eleven players hit two ground balls for every fly ball. The most powerful player above him on either of these lists is Yunel Escobar with his .416 slugging percentage and .140 ISO. It’s not great company if you’re expecting power. Last year, Heyward used a 17.8% line drive rate and 16.8% HR/FB rate to muscle 18 balls over the wall. This year, those numbers are 13.6% and 15.9% respectively, and he might need a little luck to manage the same home run pace.
Unfortunately for most of his fantasy owners, the Atlanta outfielder wasn’t valued as a .275-hitting, 18-home-run having, average-speed showing outfielder this year. As he ages and puts more weight on his frame and more loft in his swing, it’s obvious that this young man with a keen eye and a line drive stroke will achieve greater heights. But this year? In a re-draft league? It might be time to shop him.
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