The Chicago Cubs have enjoyed bounceback campaigns from multiple guys so far this year, but one who is constantly overlooked is veteran Jason Heyward.
Calling this year a bounceback season is a bit of a stretch, considering the numbers aren’t all that different from his 2018 performance. But one thing is perfectly clear: Jason Heyward is playing his best baseball since becoming a member of the Chicago Cubs.
When I look at the slash line the first thing that catches my eye is his slugging percentage. After a solo home run in Monday’s win over Atlanta, Heyward is slugging .441, his highest mark since coming to Chicago and just a few points higher than 2015, the season prior to his signing here.
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When you look at his slash line in 2018 (.270/.335/.395) and compare it to this season’s (.268/.358/.441), there’s nothing jumping out at you but advanced statistics say otherwise.
For the year, Heyward has a 108 wRC+, which is eight percent better than the average MLB position player. It’s his highest since 2015 when he finished the season with a 121 wRC+. His walk rate is up over 12 percent. He hasn’t hit a clip that high since his rookie season in 2010 when he walked at a 14.6 percent clip.
He currently has an OPS of .799. In 2015, Heyward finished the 2015 season with a .797 OPS. Lastly, the veteran outfielder is hitting the ball harder. His hard contact rate is up to 32.5 percent this season, which is higher than any season he’s played with the Cubs. Heyward’s hard contact rate in 2015 was 29.1 percent.
Coaches teach hitting the ball back up the middle of the field and Heyward is doing that at a 41.7 percent rate, while his pull rate is down, meaning fewer ground balls into the right side shift defenses like to use.
Heyward hasn’t been perfect. In fact, he struggled for most of May, batting just .186 with a .618 OPS but over his last 31 games he’s batting .311 with a .392 OBP.
He’s consistently been hitting in the fifth, sixth or seventh hole over this stretch, and not to think too far ahead, but I do wonder if Joe Maddon gives Heyward another shot at the leadoff role since Kyle Schwarber‘s OBP in the leadoff role is, simply put, not good. In 163 plate appearances, Schwarber only has a .307 OBP but has hit the ball extremely well posting a .531 slugging percentage.
Heyward has seen plenty of adversity in his time with the Cubs but maybe, just maybe, this is his breakout season in Chicago. Or it could just be another hot streak from a streaky player.
Nonetheless, the Cubs will take any production he’ll provide. I for one am happy to see him play well considering the Cubs fan base has been very critical of him in his three in a half seasons.