We’re not even a full two months into the season and, already, we’ve seen this team’s outfield depth pushed to the brink. Ian Happ, Joc Pederson and, now, Jason Heyward have all hit the IL – leading the Cubs to go with some less-than-ideal defensive deployments at times.
"“What we’ve been dealing with from an injury standpoint I don’t think is uncommon in baseball right now,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said before Thursday’s finale against the Nationals. “You look around the league and there’s a lot of injuries.”"
Heyward, who was moved to the injured list this week with a hamstring strain, has looked like a shell of his former Gold Glove-winning self this year. After turning in one of the best performances of his big league career during the 2020 campaign, he’s limped to a .183/.254/.341 line in 138 plate appearances this season.
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The veteran has battled hand issues and a hamstring injury, and one can only hope this has been the cause behind his struggles. A big issue for him at the plate has been a drastic downturn in his walk rate (it’s more than halved year-over-year from 16.6 to 8 percent) and a career-worst 24.8 percent strikeout rate.
Defensively, he’s simply not getting to the same balls he used to, either. Again, this could be because of the hamstring injury – but either way, he’s not doing much more than an average right fielder according to Baseball Savant‘s catch percentage added metric.
Jason Heyward injury has put the Cubs in a real bind in the outfield
Prior to Thursday’s game, Chicago added Nick Martini to take Heyward’s roster spot. Why? Because he’s the only other outfielder on the team’s 40-man roster. He joins the likes of Joc Pederson and a scorching-hot Ian Happ in the Cubs outfield, but is hardly what you’d consider even a league average presence with the bat.
The good news? David Ross has a great deal of versatility in his infield, which has allowed him to overcome the team’s glaring lack of outfield depth. Kris Bryant, who has spent the overwhelming majority of his career at third base, has seen time at all three outfield spots. This has allowed Ross to use combinations of Matt Duffy and David Bote at third, allowing Nico Hoerner to seize the starting second base job in the process.
It’s scary to think about where this Cubs team would be without Bryant. He’s not only led the team offensively and showed he’s still a Top 5 player in the league – but he’s done everything that’s been asked of him defensively, which has allowed Chicago to stay in the hunt, despite a plethora of outfield injuries early in the year.