I’ll admit it. I’ve run out of patience with Jason Heyward. The thing is, I don’t know where to direct that impatience. Generally, I’ve thought hitting coaches are basically a figurehead. They’re there if you need them, but most of these guys know their swing and only need minor tweaks and changes when things aren’t going well. And even when a massive overhaul is required, I still feel like the player is the one driving it.
And yet the problems with Heyward are so obvious, I’m sort of shocked that no one’s been able to point them out and/or do anything about it.
Whatever hope the first month or two had provided, and I thought you really had to squint to see it then anyway, has vanished. You can only see so many rolled-over grounders to a yawning second baseman before you realize that nothing has changed. And yet here we are.
I’m not a swing doctor, but it seems to me that Heyward does the opposite of what I’ve heard all the good hitters do. That is, they want to stay inside the ball. They shoot the knob of the bat toward the pitcher. Their hands stay in front of their body, and their hips rotate along. It gives them options. On inside pitches, they can flick the wrists and forearms to get the ball well in front of the plate while keeping it fair and not getting jammed. On outside pitches they can simply drive it the other ways everything is moving in unison–hands, hips, legs.
Heyward does none of this. It feels like Heyward is shooting the end of the bat out toward third-base as soon as possible and then brings the bat around instead of through the zone. You can’t get your body involved in the swing this way. He’s outside the ball. Sure, if you throw something down the middle he can still find it. But on the outside he’s just going to roll over as his arms and hands seek to recoil back to the body. He’s going to get jammed on inside pitches because he’s too extended. And these were the exact problems of last year.
But maybe I have all that wrong. But there is still a problem with approach. Maybe it’s a problem with recognition. I don’t know. But Heyward has basically ignored the opposite field the past two years. It shouldn’t take a genius, anywhere in the organization, to point out to J-Hey that when he was a force offensively, he could go to left field and with authority. Here’s his spray chart in 2015 when he was a Cardinal:
Look at how much red there is to the left side. Heyward had a .348 average when he hit it the other way. A line-drive rate of 26.5% that way. 27.4% hard contact. Slugged .563. Now look at this year:
He’s actually hit .305 when going that way, but only has put 59 balls that way compared with 112 he did in ’15. That’s on pace for about 72 for the year. A 13.6% hard-contact rate, though a decent 22.0% line-drive rate. Slugging .322 though, which is obviously bad.
But it’s not a one year trend. Go back to 2012 when he .351 wOBA in Atlanta.
That’s 106 balls put in play the other way, with a .348 average to do so. A .528 slugging percentage. A very decent line-drive and hard-contact rate.
IT COULD NOT BE ANY SIMPLER, LUANNE!
If the thought is Heyward can still drive inside fastballs to his pull-side, fine. But he’s not going to see any of those if he continues to take outside fastballs into ant food on the way to second base. And yet we’ve watched almost two seasons of this. J-Hey can’t possibly be this stubborn for how in tune with the game he is. Something has to give here.