Look, we all know that Jason Heyward struggled last season. His numbers (.230/.306/.325, 7 HR) were the worst of his seven-year career, and at times it was hard to see him in the lineup everyday. While he has been working diligently this offseason in reworking his swing, so far this Spring Training the results leave more to be desired, as he’s batting .152/.264/.326. However, as we’ve said here before, Heyward’s putrid season was a clear outlier from his career. The odds of him returning to form are higher than him having another season like 2016, and the key to the former of course relies on him being able to drive the ball more.
When trying to determine what went wrong with Heyward’s 2016, one must first look at his contact rate on batted balls. Let’s take a look, courtesy of Fangraphs.
His soft contact and hard contact percentage were the highest and lowest of his career in healthy seasons, so not only was he not squaring up the ball, he was actually hitting as softly as he ever has – not a good combination. It’s no wonder he only hit seven homers; he just wasn’t hitting the ball on the screws. And his BABIP (batted average on balls in play) showed that, as he only hit .266. BABIP is a key statistic here, as it more than any other stat shows how Heyward struggled as much as he did last season. The stat tends to fluctuate from player to player, as a lot of it is determined by, surprise, contact rate. Measly hit balls tend to turn into outs more (think weak groundballs and lazy pop ups), and Heyward had more than his fair share of those in 2016. Thankfully, the Cubs hitting coaches have been working with Heyward to try and get him back to his career-best 2012, when he hit 27 HR and 82 RBIs. These changes include lowering his hands and opening his stance more, and while the stats won’t show it, this Spring Training he’s already been hitting the ball harder.
Heyward’s always been an interesting player. Offensively he’s fluctuated throughout the years, with his best BA, SLG and OBP all coming in different seasons. His defense however has become standard – the gold standard. Coming off his 3rd straight Gold Glove, there’s no question that Heyward can change the game with his defense. That part of his game, thankfully, shouldn’t change.
2017 is a big year for Heyward. One of the biggest storylines this year in all of baseball will be if he can return to form and validate his mega 8-year, $184 million contract. The pressure will definitely be on, as the Cubs have other guys worthy of more playing time if he continues to struggle. However, we don’t see him having another bad season. In our eyes, 2017 will be a bounce back year.
Our 2017 season projections: .260/.350/.420, 15 HR, 60 RBIs, 70 runs
*Image via Arturo Pardavila III