Chicago Cubs: Jason Heyward has been ice-cold in May

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

While the likes of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are heating up for the Chicago Cubs, Jason Heyward has had a brutal month of May thus far.

Jason Heyward got off to a torrid start, hitting .309 with five homers in the first month of play while propelling an otherwise struggling Chicago Cubs lineup. What was even more encouraging than the numbers, however, was the approach at the plate.

Since arriving in Chicago, Heyward had garnered a reputation as “Mr. 4-3,” routinely sending weak ground balls to the pull side. Yet this season he was driving the ball to all fields, including multiple opposite-field homers against the Milwaukee Brewers in early April.

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But as the weather has slowly begun to grow warmer, Heyward has gotten colder at this dish. In 12 games and 47 at-bats in May, Heyward has just seven hits. So, why the sudden change? What has happened that has caused Heyward’s average to drop over 60 points and his OPS to plummet below .800?

The move to leadoff

Heyward has led off in six games since the beginning of the month, and the results have not been good. In 27 plate appearances at the top of the card, Heyward has just three hits and one walk. The routine, pull-side ground ball has returned as well, which is bad news.

See, Heyward is at his best when he is spreading the ball around. In fact, his best approach is to think middle-away. Thus far, Heyward is hitting .333 in all at-bats when he has hit the ball to either center or left field. When he pulls, he is hitting just .233.

But the move to leadoff, for whatever reason, is forcing Heyward back into bad habits. His strikeout rate is up nearly four percent in May, and his walk percentage is at just over three percent at the top of the order.

Heyward has his second-lowest hard-hit percentage from the leadoff spot, according to FanGraphs, and opposing pitchers have been attacking him more carefully than in the past.

A familiar foe

In Heyward’s first year as a Cub, he was routinely beaten by fastballs up in the zone. That is no longer the case. He hit .280 against fastballs in 2017 and .319 in 2018.

This season, the 29-year-old is hitting .288 and slugging .550 against fastballs, with five of his six homers coming against hard stuff, according to MLB Statcast. But the improvements against heaters have made Heyward increasingly susceptible to changeups.

Despite actually hitting at a better clip against the breaking ball, Heyward is hitting just .111 against off-speed stuff this season. Similarly, his whiff percentage is close to 30 percent, which is also the same rate that the opposing pitcher uses the offspeed as a put-away pitch against Heyward.

This dead-red approach could explain why Heyward is so off-balance.

After posting a 20 percent HR/FB rate in the first month, Heyward has a 5.6 percent HR/FB in May despite hitting the ball in the air more frequently. Similarly, the line drive percentage has all but disappeared, and the hard contact rate is down almost 12 percent.

Next. Kris Bryant has returned to elite form. dark

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and Heyward will have to change up his approach once again. And, maybe, Joe Maddon will continue to move him around in the order to see where he may fit the best.