After two solid offensive performances against aces Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, it’s hard to complain about anything related to the Cubs’ lineup. However, any fan that has consistently watched for the past month has noticed something off about Jason Heyward. He simply has not been himself ever since taking over that leadoff position in the lineup, and facts prove this sentiment.
Heyward was inserted into that leadoff position on July 31st against his former team, the St Louis Cardinals. Ever since then, according to FanGraphs, he has a wRC+ of 76, which is 24% below league average. He also has an OPS of .660, and the average OPS in baseball this year is ~.750. He’s walking at about the same rate as he has been all year, yet he’s not making nearly the same amount of contact and all of his power has disappeared. He was having arguably the best two-month stretch of his career in June and July and was worth every bit of that expensive contract, which I wrote about back in June. However, now he’s back to hitting as poorly as his 2016 season. It’s not as if this is a small sample size — it’s been a full month, and it’s about time he’s moved further down in the order.
As stated above, if you compare his offensive output at leadoff to the two months prior, there is an astonishing difference. In June and July, Heyward had a wRC+ of 121, good for 21% above league average. He also had an OPS of .866, which is the best mark of his career. With how stellar Heyward has been in right and center field this year, those offensive numbers make him as valuable as any player on this team.
I understand the Cubs do not have a perfect leadoff hitter on their roster, but nothing can be less productive than what Heyward is providing in his last 26 games there. I’m sure all of his struggles are not attributed to hitting leadoff, but it cannot all be a coincidence. This is especially true because Heyward has been on record in the past, ever since he was tried out at leadoff for his first team, the Atlanta Braves, that he does not like it. He has stated he struggles with the change of approach, and it’s fairly obvious that he has zero confidence in his ability hitting there in the lineup. With how much Heyward has struggled offensively as a Cub in years past, why would you mess with his mental approach when he’s finally starting to experience success? Baseball is as mental as a game as there is, and once a player is all up inside his own head you’ve lost him.
It’s not too late for Heyward to get back to how he was hitting before moving to the leadoff spot, but he needs to be moved from there as soon as possible. Joe Maddon should put him down in the 5-7 range and keep him there all year. This is where he was experiencing success in June and July, so maybe putting him back there will help him relax and return to the mental approach that enabled his success. The Cubs need Heyward to hit the way he was in the prior months if they want to win this division and even think about making a run in the postseason.
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