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.
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.