Chicago Cubs are right to leave Jason Heyward in right field

Chicago Cubs, Jason Heyward (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs, Jason Heyward (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs manager David Ross says that he will try to keep Jason Heyward in right field this season. The numbers say that’s the right thing to do.

Last season, Jason Heyward started the year as the right fielder for the Chicago Cubs. Though Joe Maddon got him some time in center field toward the beginning of the season, he played primarily in right, just as he has during most of his career in which he’s won five Gold Glove Awards and posted 11.1 defensive wins above replacement.

However, between the ineffectiveness of Albert Almora Jr. and the trade for Nicholas Castellanos at the trade deadline last year, Heyward was pressed into a lot of center field duty down the stretch. Heyward played center in 84 games last year, spanning 603 1/3 innings, after not making more than 25 appearances in center during any other season of his career.

However, new manager David Ross has stated that he will try to keep Heyward in right field as much as possible this season. Ross cited the fact that Heyward is most comfortable in right and that he’s proven that he’s one of the best in the game when he plays that position.

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Ross has been receiving a lot of praise for his leadership early on in spring training this year, and this is another area in which he’s doing the right thing. Right field is Heyward’s natural position, and the statistics say that he’s more valuable in right field than in center.

For example, in 2019 he was worth seven defensive runs saved above average in right field, while he was worth -4 in center. He also posted an overall negative defensive WAR for the first time in his career in 2019.

Also consider this: Did playing in center field hurt Heyward at the plate in 2019? The number suggest that that might have been the case. As a right fielder, his AVG/OBP/SLG line was .289/.362/.488, while as a center fielder those numbers were .215/.325/.371. Heyward’s dip in offensive production also coincides largely with his movement to the leadoff position, so there’s more than one possibility here, but it’s still worth considering.

We could say that this was an easy decision for Ross, as the Cubs have more options for center field heading into the 2020 season. Ross cited the competition between Ian Happ and Almora in center, while the team also has Steven Souza Jr., primarily a center fielder in his career.

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Still, the move of Heyward back to right field appears to be yet another attempt to restore some order after things fell apart under Maddon late last year. Let’s hope that Heyward’s offensive and defensive numbers improve as a result of this decision.