Chicago Cubs desperately need Jason Heyward to figure out offensive woes

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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The Chicago Cubs have a lot of questions heading into 2018. Like it or not, one of those questions is $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward.

Prior to the 2016 campaign, the Chicago Cubs put their money where their mouth was, signing outfielder Jason Heyward to the biggest free agent contract in franchise history. At first, fans were jubilant. The deal not only added a Gold Glove-caliber outfield, but took him away from the division-rival St. Louis Cardinals.

At the end of his regular season, most of us had a bad feeling in our mouths. We were paying this guy in the neighborhood of $30 million annually to hit .230 with a .631 OPS? Not exactly something that inspires warm and fuzzy feelings.

But he redeemed himself with his now-famous locker room chat in Game 7’s rain delay in Cleveland. He put his personal struggles aside and stepped up when his team needed him most. He followed that up with spending his entire offseason in Arizona revamping his entire approach at the dish.

That’s leadership.

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And this year, we saw improvement. Heyward saw his OPS climb from .631 to .715 while matching his defense in right field from the year prior (1.4 dWAR in 2017, 1.3 dWAR in 2016). But, again, you have to consider the price tag the four-time Gold Glove winner comes with.

In the postseason, the Chicago Cubs offense was in free-fall. In the NLCS, the team did not score a run on anything but a home run. Their inability to string hits together cost them any real shot at a second-straight National League pennant.

With Ben Zobrist coming off one of the worst seasons of his career and question marks surrounding the likes of Kyle Schwarber, a resurgent Heyward could go a long way in changing the way this offense looks.

Using all fields will be key to a turnaround

So what has to change with Heyward at the plate?

He has to start using all fields again. 2017 marked his worst single-season performance since 2010 in that regard, hitting just 19.8 percent of balls to the opposite field. He also put up his worst hard-hit percentage of his big-league career at just 25.5 percent.

Plate discipline is a big part of the problem. Heyward swung at nearly 29 percent of pitches outside the strike zone – his worst performance since 2012.

The value Jason Heyward brings in the clubhouse and with his glove is staggering. He’s arguably the best defensive right fielder in all of Major League Baseball. It would be a mistake to ever think he’ll be a 30-100 type player in the middle of the Chicago Cubs lineup.

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But, if he can push his OPS closer to the .800 mark moving forward and start using the whole field, Joe Maddon‘s lineup gets a big boost. The man, beloved for his Game 7 pep-talk, could write a new chapter in his still-young Cubs career.

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