Cubs need Jason Heyward to keep improving at the plate

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

If Jason Heyward can turn in an above-average season at the plate in 2021 – along with his typical Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field – we might finally be at the point where he’s known for more than a weight room speech during Game 7 of the World Series.

That’s not to take anything away from what Heyward did for the 2016 Chicago Cubs in that moment. It will live on in lore for generations to come. But the veteran outfielder and former first-round pick has done so much more than that during this time in Chicago, too.

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Every year, we’ve seen steady improvement from him at the plate. Like I said, nobody worries about what type of defense you’re going to get from Heyward – for obvious reasons. But after turning in a 68 OPS+ in the first year of an eight-year, $184 million contract, needless to say, there were some concerns.

But then in 2017, he inched up to an 84 OPS+, followed by a 94 OPS+ in 2018. By 2019, the veteran outfielder was a league average offensive player once again – hitting it right on the head with a 100 OPS+. Last year, though, he was solidly above-average with the stick.

Cubs got a lot out of Jason Heyward in ’20

Appearing in 50 of the team’s 60 regular season games, Heyward batted .265/.392/.456 with six doubles, six homers and a pair of triples. He struck out 37 times, but walked 30 times. That worked out to a 16.6 percent walk rate, good enough to rank in the top four percent of the league.

For Heyward, it’s been all about comfortability and finding his role in the Cubs’ system.

"“When it comes to the offensive side for me, and my time in Chicago, I felt like last year, and every year since I’ve been here, I’ve just got more comfortable with the system. … You’ve got to fit into a system sometimes, and you’ve got to understand how to do that. So, I think I have a pretty good grasp on that now.”"

The big difference last year was that first-year manager David Ross deployed Heyward in situations that were to his liking. In other words, he didn’t regularly trot him out against left-handers, against whom the outfielder has struggled in his career.

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Heyward was able to drastically cut down on his chase rate in 2020 – and it went a long way toward helping him re-establish himself as a legitimate offensive threat. With the potential losses of key guys, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez, on the horizon, continued improvement from Heyward will be key for the Cubs in 2021 and beyond.