Behind the Numbers: Jason Heyward is Proving his Worth with his Best Season Since 2015
The perception that Jason Heyward is not living up to his contract is simply not true anymore.
If you take a look at Jason Heyward’s offensive stats, they are almost identical to his All-Star caliber season in 2015 with the Cardinals. In that season, Heyward finished tenth in position player Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at 6.6. While he will not have a WAR to that level this season due to his perceived decrease in defensive ability since then, he is still quietly having one of the better seasons of any player on the Cubs. Here is a comparison of his offensive numbers in 2015 and 2019:
While his batting average is 26 percentage points lower in 2019, he makes up for it by walking much more, which is evident by his near-identical on-base percentage. Putting these numbers into perspective, Heyward is having far and away his best offensive season as a Cub. On top of that, he is exhibiting unprecedented power that the Cubs’ fan base has not seen from him before. On Monday against the Braves, he hit his eleventh home run of the season. This already matches his career high as a Cub, and there are still 83 games left to play!
While it is possible that Heyward has lost a half step defensively since 2015, I do not believe it is anywhere close to the level that analytics say it is. These defensive stats don’t take into account how often Heyward splits time in CF and RF. In 2015, he played 51 total innings in CF. In 2019, with 83 games left to play, he has already racked up 231.1 innings. Constantly switching defensive positions is a lot harder than people think it is, especially in the outfield. The ball comes off the bat differently in RF than it does CF. This constant switch has absolutely played a part in his decreased route efficiency when it should actually be positively affecting his defensive worth because it proves his exceptional versatility. Heyward is still in the upper echelon of outfielders in all of baseball.
Although I am a big advocate of how valuable Heyward is to this Cubs team, it is not to be understated how horrific his hitting has been in the postseason. He has a career .447 OPS in 130 postseason plate appearances, which is considerably below average. Having said this, there’s an element of randomness that goes into postseason hitting. There are many greats that have postseason stats way below their regular season stats, such as Jeff Bagwell, Vladimir Guerrero, and Craig Biggio. I’m by no means comparing Heyward to those Hall of Famers, but saying he is a worthless hitter because of his postseason struggles is ignorant.
Ever since Heyward’s astonishingly bad first season as a Cub in 2016, Chicago media and fans have constantly ripped on him. This skepticism of his ability was not without merit, but the narrative that he continues to not be worth his contract is simply not true anymore. Not only is he one of the most respected leaders in the clubhouse, but he’s also having a pretty damn good year in every facet of the game. He is worth every penny of that contract this year if he keeps these numbers up. While Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora probably do not deserve to be in the final cut for the All-Star selection, Heyward deserves every bit of it. And quite frankly, he deserves a lot more praise from a Cubs fan base that continually does not recognize his worth.
Featured Photo: USA Today