#35: Jason Heyward (by bledsoe)

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Jason Heyward
LH Hitting, LH Throwing Outfielder
Braves Seasons: 2010-2014
.262/.351/.429, 84 HR, 292 RBI, 367 RS, 63 SB, 114 OPS+

The Braves legend on Jay-Hey is that they identified him as a stud as a teenager in Atlanta metro travel leagues and successfully salted him away from the prying eyes of other MLB teams by pretending to not be in the least interested. That, and the fact that Heyward’s plate discipline in high school was so developed (and I guess his ego so undeveloped) that he would be content to take 4 walks in a game, leaving the rival scouts with nothing to report back on. Anyhow, we took Jason with the 14th overall pick of the first round of the 2007 draft, out of Henry County High School (Go Hawks!).

He was moving through the minors at rapid pace, getting promoted in midseason every year, and hitting three levels (Myrtle Beach, Pearl, and 3 games at Gwinnett) in 2009. In 2010, he was drawing rave reviews from guys like Chipper in spring training in 2010, and played so well that he made the big club as a 20-year-old. On Opening Day, the biggest story in all baseball was fans waiting until the game was official in the 5th so that the Braves could officially sell his jersey as a major leaguer. Touted as a five tool player, he proved the Braves correct, coming in second to Buster Posey for ROY, slashing .277/.393/.456. His next best year as a Brave was 2012, when he hit 27 HRs and stole 21 bases.

Nonetheless, his numbers fell off in 2013. He was already in a power slump when in late August, he took a fastball to the jaw that put him out of action for several weeks. Then his numbers dropped even more in 2014 (just 11 HRs). I speculate that troubling decline in power is one of the main reasons the Braves chose to send him as a rental to the Cards for 2015, to sell high before the rest of MLB caught up. I like Jay-Hey a lot; I think we robbed ‘em blind. While his defense continues to be special, his hitting decline from his studly rookie year was undeniable.

But you can’t talk about Heyward without talking about his defense. Those long strides eat up a lot of ground: he led the league in RF putouts in 2012 and 2014. He’s got a great arm as well; he also led the league in RF assists those same years. I suspect he might have done the same in 2011 and 2013 but for spending significant time on the DL. Stealing home runs seems to be a particular hobby.

As far as the hitters bracketing him, he’s below Terry Pendleton (New No. 31), above Dusty Baker (New No. 35). Before you complain about my dissing Jason, please remember Terry Pendleton’s impact (start by reading Mac’s writeup). TP was perhaps the key acquisition, the needed cog in the machine that got us to the Land of Milk and Honey. His 1991 MVP was an undoubted tribute to that fact. Jason’s years, while better than TP’s, didn’t lead to team success except for a division crown in 2014. (See also Glenn Hubbard, who has far more Atlanta Runs Created than Jason and also has similar career defensive WAR, yet is ranked only at New No. 37, five slots below Jason at New No. 32.) Jason’s offensive stats are not significantly different from Dusty Baker’s, honestly; Dusty’s are better in some respects. Ditto for Chris Chambliss, who will wind up barely making the cut to stay on the 44 with all these additions. I can’t think of a hitter ranked above Heyward that doesn’t deserve to be ranked above him.

For those of you who worship at the altar of WAR and dWAR, this will no doubt seem low. Heyward’s Atlanta WAR of 24.6, powered by a 7.8 dWAR, is sixth overall. But in Runs Created, Mac’s key stat in compiling this list, he’s 22nd, just ahead of Chris Chambliss, Martin Prado, and Mike Lum, and well behind Freeman, Hubbard, Garr, and Klesko. He gets a boost for his excellent defense, but not enough to move him into the top thirty.

The guy looks like a Greek god, and given that physique, and his rocketlike rise through the minors, people were talking about him maybe reeling off 30/30 years. That clearly isn’t going to happen. Heck, 20/20 probably isn’t ever going to happen again. Last year, a bit of a comeback for him, he was 10th among major league RFs in OPS, 18th among major league OFs (the year before, 11th and 34th).

Despite Edward’s valiant number-crunching, I don’t believe Jason Heyward is one of the 15 top position players in baseball, or even close. But I suspect he’s going to get paid like one very soon.

44 thoughts on “#35: Jason Heyward (by bledsoe)”

  1. With Toscano clearing, the Braves have the fourth outfielder position in spades. They should petition for a rule change.

  2. We have definitely cornered the market on fourth outfielders. We are a one stop shop. I count 5 of them.

  3. Think of how versatile we will be. Teams will scheme for Bourn and get Swisher; scheme for Swisher and get Toscano; scheme for Toscano and get Bourn. Sometimes, we’ll sub them out in the middle of the game. It’s gonna be mayhem for opposing dugouts.

  4. I think he’s too low, but looking at Mac’s original list to figure out where I’d slot him I realized I’d forgotten how idiosyncratic the list already was. I don’t remember him explicitly saying this, but he seems to have judged players based on how well they delivered in their role, while not adjusting much for how important that role was, or for how long the player filled it — witness Mike Remlinger at #24, which is sort of like when Roger Ebert gave “The Last House On the Left” three and a half stars. I’d slot Heyward between Gant and Klesko, but out of Heyward-talk exhaustion I’ll just say so and dive out.

  5. @6- Right, outside of Mac’s weird reliever rankings, it’s hard to argue that a guy with only 5 years on the club should be ranked much higher–especially on a list where catching the damn ball is worth about as much as the points on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

    Good write-up, but I think your team success caveat is misleading. (Just about Heyward, not about TP, who’s a straight rider.) Heyward’s Braves averaged 90 wins over 5 seasons, and 92.5 wins over his first 4–the drop occurred once the team gave an AVERAGE of 568 plate appearances to Mudge, LaStuggla, Dorn, and Simmons. I’d like to see Pendleton lead that line-up to a division crown.

    As for top-15 material right now? Heyward was the best player on his team in 2010, 2014, 2015, and possibly 2012, depending on where you slot Bourn and Prado. There isn’t a doubt about it, Bledsoe.

  6. Well, I sort of promised at the outset that I wouldn’t spend any time revisiting the merits of Mac’s list. I am going to break that promise to say that I found the Remlinger ranking inexplicable and said so at the time.

  7. @11-

    Favorite Braves moments since 2010 (not in any order):
    -that catch
    -his first AB home run
    -the Andrelton double play in extras against the Nats, brought to you by a game-tying homer by Heyward in the ninth
    -Chipper in his final season staring down Papelbon, hitting one a mile foul, then hitting a game winner a mile fair
    -the Ankiel homer into the bay in San Francisco
    -Huddy’s 200th + the Bryce Harper assisted home run (only one I was in the park for)
    -Gattis getting tips from Justin Upton in 2013 against the Dodgers as they bring on Kenley Jansen, getting his pitch, and destroying the baseball

  8. Jason Heyward
    dollar expectations have been consistently wayward
    sanity herein
    sit back and watch the others their bidding WARS begin.

  9. The Mets won 90 games, or the least amount of any NL postseason team and seven games back of the second wildcard team (Pirates), and that’s despite playing 54 games against the Phillies, Braves and Marlins, while the Pirates were in arguably 2015’s best MLB division.

    They’re not that good.

  10. If the Hawks were run like the Falcons, they wouldn’t ever shoot from outside because 3s are too far away from the basket. Or they’d randomly do it twice a game and it’d be Mike Muscala both times because the other guys never saw it coming.

    The cripping conservatism of NFL coaching melts my brain.

  11. I would say Pendleton is the most important free agent the Braves ever signed.

    – He was the team leader on the team that changed the organization
    – The things that don’t show up in the box score, he was great
    – Without the post signing success, Maddux is a Yankee

    I think TP is one of the 10 most important Braves players ever (Boston, Milwaukee or Atlanta)

  12. the Dark Knight
    where early was sweetness and light
    his iconic status
    destroyed in late evening hiatus.

  13. @ 5…

    our candle burns at both ends
    it may not last the fight
    but ah my foes and oh my friends
    the mighty we shall smite.

    we must be prepared to pay the going rate though..

    Edna St. Vincent Millay
    behaved with discretion to all who could pay
    but Daphne du Maurier
    has claimed that whatever she charges, she feels sorrier.

  14. #19
    The Mets became a much-different club after the trade deadline, a really good one. They went 30-12 after that date. They got swept by the Cubs & Pirates in the regular season, but they swept the Cubs in the games that counted much more.

    Whether or not they sign Cespedes and/or Murphy, they still have a terrific rotation and, apparently, a very good closer. I’d imagine that they’ll be favored to win the NL East in ’16.

  15. Even if the Nationals lose Zimmermann, Desmond, and Span, they’ll be a strong team, too, especially if they actually get a full season from both Rendon and Harper. Michael Taylor is a nice-looking player, Giolito’s very close to ready, and they still have Strasburg and Scherzer. Even considering that the Mets are likely to lose at least one of their biggest bats, I think the Nats and Mets are both a good bet for 85-90 wins.

  16. @31

    If the Braves go the entire off-season and only add $6 million in new player salaries, I’m done with this.

  17. @ZachKleinWSB: Per multiple sources, former #Braves pitcher Tommy Hanson is in a coma at local Atl. hospital. Working to get more details

  18. @33..

    ..for whatever reason the first memory that comes to mind seeing his name again after a long interval is that Spring Training a few years back. He was en route in his Infiniti and had a single car accident. Bless him.

  19. There’s a lot of conflicting info out there. Let’s hope for the best until there’s a credible news source.

  20. The Atlanta ABC affiliate is now reporting that he has indeed passed away. Sadly, this is starting to appear confirmed.

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