See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.
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.