Jason Heyward was hands-down the Cubs’ MVP this season

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward did it all this season, stepping up offensively.

Jason Heyward will probably never get a fair shake with Cubs fans. They hold him to his contract, a monster eight-year, $184 million deal that will keep him on the North Side through 2023. Up until this point, he’s been widely considered an elite defender and great clubhouse presence – but not much more.

But this year, he took a big step in silencing his critics, turning in the best offensive campaign of his Cubs career. His 129 OPS+ marked his highest since his rookie season back in 2010 and his .848 OPS trailed only Ian Happ on the team.

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His first year with the team culminated in a World Series championship. Of course, he gave an impassioned speech during the Game 7 rain delay – and, to this day, that’s probably his greatest moment as a Cub – one that only his teammates can attest to.

Since then, he’s improved annually at the dish. His OPS+ in his first five years with Chicago has trended steadily in the right direction, starting at a woeful 68 in 2016 before peaking this year at 129.

Heyward led all Cubs players with a .392 OBP this season, courtesy of his impressive bat-to-ball ability and great plate approach. He struck out 37 times this year, while drawing 30 walks in 181 plate appearances. That comes out to a 16.6 percent walk rate – which ranks in the top four percent of the league.

This year, the veteran outfielder set a personal best in terms of line drive rate and solid contact percentage. We didn’t see him rolling over on as many balls – something that’s really hurt Heyward in the past. So what spurred such a dramatic improvement in his offense? Well, he finally has a manager who understands how to properly deploy him.

For years, Joe Maddon insisted on batting Heyward against left-handers, who’ve owned him his entire career. This year, David Ross took the data at his disposal and put the five-time Gold Glover in a position to succeed. Heyward rewarded him with one of the best all-around performances of his entire career.

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Given how many guys underperformed for the Cubs this year, Heyward’s breakout showing was even more important than it may have been otherwise. The All-Star outfielder arrived in a big way and let’s not forget, he delivered probably the biggest win of the year, taking Josh Hader deep in Milwaukee in a moment no one is likely to soon forget.