Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward has been a disappointment at the plate, but his defense has helped buoy him until the bat comes around, and there’s still plenty of time.
When you sign an eight year/$184 million deal to join the Chicago Cubs in their quest for a World Series title the expectation on you will be elevated. When you’re Jason Heyward and batting .231 halfway through the season it’s easy to understand why fans are upset. Many have touted his defense for the reason he was signed–and that’s not wrong–but the Cubs were hoping for a little bit more from at the plate. His defense has indeed kept people from calling for his job–most, but not all–but that “hitchy” swing has been a glaring issue.
Heyward has admittedly had some bad luck, as do all hitters. Solid contact right at guys has been the norm, but so have weak ground balls to second base. And when you take a look at his plate discipline on FanGraphs, it all falls in line with his career numbers. He’s not swinging at more bad pitches or taking any more good ones.
Looking deeper into his numbers, his home run/fly ball ratio is down from 12% last season to just 4.9% this year. And there’s also been a swing from hard contact (29.1% to 24.2) to more soft contact (22.4 to 28.3%) this season. One of the most glaring effects of these is his slugging percentage which is a career-low in his time in the majors at just .319 (.384 w/Braves in 2014).
Heyward has always had a lot going on in his swing. Every hitter has his routine at the plate, but often times when the plane of your hands change several times before the pitch is delivered it can be an issue. Our Robert Davis also questions if his wrist could still be an issue. Which takes me back to 2011 and Heyward was with the Braves. He was struggling with shoulder issues and decided to shut it down.
"“That’s why right now I’m shut down as far as my swing goes,” Heyward said. “I don’t need to create any bad habits or make it worse.”"
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Could this be the root cause of his struggles at the plate? We’ve seen wrist and thumb issues plague players well after they were deemed “healthy”. One that always comes to mind is
. He struggles with the Cubs after a thump issue and they decided his career was about over. The thumb fully healed and we had the pleasure (sarcasm) of watching him hammer us as the Cardinals third baseman.
Heyward’s willingness to drop down in the lineup (or being forced, whichever the case) showed some promise of helping him for a short stint. He was making better contact and looked to be breaking out. But in his last nine games, he’s batting just .132 (4-for-30) while slugging a measly .167.
Cubs hitting coach John Mallee continues to work with Heyward, and he’s been seen putting extra time in to try and rectify his issues. Javier Baez is a perfect example of being able to overcome a swing that isn’t ideal. Mallee has helped turn around Baez, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t do the same for Heyward. Part of the adjustment may be in the swing, but a good portion is in the approach. I’m not a hitting instructor, but I can watch him and see he needs to go the opposite way more often, especially on pitches away.
Heyward continues to play Gold Glove caliber defense even while struggling offensively. It may seem small, but having him out there is worth it, even if the offense isn’t there. The amount of money will ALWAYS be one of the main factors in how people perceive a player’s worth, but that’s just out of control in sports, in general. The Cubs are winning, and Heyward is helping on the defensive side, so he’s got time to alleviate the issues but it needs to happen sooner than later.