Will Jason Heyward finally break out with a full and healthy season of all-star offense to match his all-world defense? Will he ever put together the kind of year that both the numbers-counters and advanced-metric types agree upon? Trust me, you can make yourself crazy trying to figure it out.
Since his eye-opening, 6.4-WAR rookie campaign in 2010 (.277/.393/.456, 131 OPS+), it’s been a career of fits and starts for the RF, complete with transcendent moments (like this, this and this) and almost every kind of season-interrupting misfortune (nagging thumb, hamstring and shoulder injuries, an appendectomy, a beaning).
Projecting Heyward seasons (and, thus, estimating his future payday) has become an off-season sport in recent years. It’s a noble and interesting project, but given Heyward’s injuries and the (possibly injury-impacted) inconsistencies in so many offensive categories each season, you may be better off just crossing your fingers.
Perhaps true to the norm, Heyward’s 2013 season saw some fleeting excellence, but plenty of interruption. As the JUpton-powered Braves blazed to an early division lead,
Heyward got off to a brutal start on and off the field. Three weeks of offensive ineptitude (.121/.261/.259) was followed with the emergency surgery and another three weeks away from the field. On his return, it took him about another 15 games to get going, but… whoa, when he did, he was an offensive force.
On June 1, he was sitting at .146/.290/.243. The rest of the season—again, twice interrupted by injury—saw him go .297/.376/.500. This included the 30-game stretch where he hit leadoff, going .322/.401/.551. Tantalizing, huh?
It should also be noted that, when manager Fredi Gonzalez ran out of patience with B.J. Upton and his season-long funk, he moved Heyward to CF, where he showed impressive range. For the ’13 season, Heyward finished .254/.349/.427, 111 OPS+, 3.6 WAR (including 1.4 dWAR). For his career, he’s sitting at .259/.352/.443 (115 OPS+), 18.4 WAR (including 5.0 dWAR).
His Weird 2013 Platoon Splits: He had a mild reverse platoon split last year, hitting .250/.352/.415 in 316 PA against righties compared to.264/.347/.455 in 124 PA against lefties. Certainly, that was not in accordance with his career numbers—.273/.370/.426 against RHP and .232/.312/.377 vs LHP—like most left-handed hitters, he has typically hit worse when he faces southpaws. We’re only talking 124 PA vs LHP in ’13, but if those numbers continue to rise, that would be pretty sweet.
2013 Home-Road Splits: Here’s another example of Heyward’s occasional statistical weirdness: While he was terrific this year at The Ted (.294/.371/.502 in 250 PA), he plainly sucked on the road (.199/.321/.323 in 190 PA). In his career, his OPS has been .786 at home and .803 on the road, so I’m not going to strain my brain trying to figure this one out.
Other stuff: Also, after a year that saw him go 21-for-29 in stolen base attempts, he only tried six in 2013 (and was only successful twice). Certainly, the injuries hampered him, but the Braves didn’t try to steal very much in 2013, relying on its impressive power game. Additionally, Heyward’s walk rate rose a bit (10.9% up from 8.9%) and his K rate dropped noticeably (16.6% down from 23.3%).
Post-Season: His big October moment came in Game 2 of last year’s NLDS, when he laced a 2-run single off tough LOOGY Paco Rodriguez for the winning margin in the Braves’ lone series victory. He hit a late-inning homer in the blowout Game-3 loss & had 4 RBI in the series, but ended up going 3 for 18 with no BB and 7 Ks (167/167/333). It’s obviously still early in his career, but so far his overall post-season numbers haven’t been so good. In three losing October visits (40 PA), Heyward has struck out 16 times and earned only one BB, going 154/175/256.
Two Big Years Ahead: Speaking for myself, there are few current Braves players I enjoy watching as much as Jason Heyward. (Check these ’13 highlights.) When he’s right, he’s something else.
And as everyone knows by now, the Braves avoided all kinds of drama by buying out Heyward’s last two arb-eligible years with a two-year/$13.3 M contract that runs thru 2015.
After that, who knows? But, in the short term at least, I’ll join the legions of Braves fans hoping to see a pair of Heyward mega-seasons (not to mention a pennant or better). As for the next contract, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there— once Heyward hits the ripe old age of 26.