Heyward’s Struggles and Did You Know

Written by Caleb on July 1, 2011 – 9:43 am

I had hoped to write this article about the resurgence of Jason Heyward and how his return to the lineup has improved a languid Braves offense. Unfortunately, Heyward has only shown glimpses of his offensive prowess, with no consistency whatsoever.

Is a lingering injury still causing the lack of production? Does he just need time to readjust? I have no idea what is causing his lack of production, though I will show the statistics that point out how his approach has differed from last year and how that affects his offensive ability greatly. In addition, I will provide a “did you know” type fact on eleven players. Please note that all statistics are through June 28.

Let’s starts with Jason Heyward. Heyward has apparently forgotten how to hit baseballs into the air. If you see just a few of his games, you know it seems that a majority of the balls he moonwalk bounce house makes contact with end up rolling to the second baseman for an easy 4-3. Take a look at his spray chart for the year.

There are two pressing issues demonstrated by the spray chart, in addition to the glaring number of balls hit for outs to the right side. The first issue is the significant number of balls that do not leave the infield. This is evidenced by one unbelievable statistic. Heyward’s infield fly ball percentage (IFFB%) is an astounding 20.5% compared to last year’s 8.4%. One-fifth of the balls Heyward puts into play are fly balls in the infield. Think about how ridiculous that statistic is? It is no wonder he has played so poorly thus far.

The second issue is Heyward’s inability to hit towards left field. A majority of his hits have been to center or right fields, which indicates he is pulling the ball (hello 4-3). I am not entirely sure if his injuries have caused him to change his swing or his approach at the plate or what exactly. I am dubious of Larry Parrish’s ability to correct the issue.

The chart does not fully identify a few other disturbing trends. Heyward’s line drive percentage (LD%) has dropped form 17.8% last year to 13.3% this year. A line drive has a greater probability of turning into a hit than either a ground ball or fly ball. In regards to ground balls, which he has hit so frequently, his BABIP is .265 compared to .335 last year. Some people will contribute this to “luck.” I contribute it to teams adjusting to Heyward’s tendency to pull the ball with defensive shifts.

Heyward’s discipline at the plate has been up and down. He is more aggressive, which I doubt is a positive for him right now. Heyward is swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone 28.7% of the time compared to 24.2% last year, while swinging at 67% inside the strike zone compared to 58% last year. Overall, he is swinging at 44.5% of all pitches up from 39.4% last year. This increases likelihood of contact on bad pitches, though his contact rate has dropped from 79.1% to 75.5%, which means more swinging strikes.This aggressiveness could stem from adjustments (Parrish’s doings?), pressing, if he is still injured or who knows what.

There is one positive. Heyward’s strikeout perctange (K%) has remained similar, while his walk percentage (BB%) declines slightly, but is not significant enough to elevate itself to a reason for his struggles in 2011.

I am hopeful that Heyward is just adjusting back to his swing from last year after dealing with the nagging injuries from this year. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks how he performs. I believe the All-Star break will give him so time to rest, adjust and come back swinging a more consistent bat. He has shown glimpses of it lately, so I assume with a break, he will be able to further focus on adjustments.

Did You Know?

Below is an interesting (I think) tidbit about each of the regular eight hitters, minus Heyward, plus Brooks Conrad, Jordan Schafer, Eric Hinkse and David Ross. The rankings I use are based only on those eleven, plus Heyward.

Brian McCann: He is leading the Braves with a fWAR of 3.2. Prado is second with a 1.7. Speaking of…

Martin Prado: Prado’s strikeout percentage is 11.7% (K%), which is the lowest of the twelve. Making contact does contribute to his team-leading GIDPs.

Alex Gonzalez: He has the most plate appearances by anyone with 312, which makes his BB% of 4.2 (the lowest on the team) even more frustrating.

David Ross: He has a wOBA of .399 and an ISO of .212. Yes, the Braves should be using him to pinch hit more.

Eric Hinske: In only 167 plate appearances, Hinske has eight homeruns.

Jordan Schafer: The Braves lead-off hitter has an OBP of .299 which is the third lowest.

Brooks Conrad: A team-high 40.4 K%, but a healthy ISO of .255. It is either a homerun or a strikeout for the “Raw Dog”.

Nate McLouth: He has an OBP of .339 which is second (for a starter) to McCann’s. And somehow he is still batting eighth or ninth.

Freddie Freeman: He has a BABIP of .327, second only to McCann’s .330. Neither of which do I believe are sustainable.

Dan Uggla: On the reverse end of the BABIP spectrum, Uggla has a BABIP of .188. Grounding balls into the dirt at every at-bat is not helping him break out of his half-of-a-season slump.

I will leave everyone with this question. There has been plenty of talk around about trading Jair Jurrjens. What do you think? Would a Jurrjens for Curtis Granderson trade be alright with you or is there some attachement to Jurrjens that the Braves should continue to pursue?

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5 Responses to “Heyward’s Struggles and Did You Know”

  1. By Caleb on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    I apologize for not referencing the data providers this post. The spray chart is from TexasLeaugers.com and the data is from Fangraphs.com.

  2. By Ethan on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    The denominator for IFFB% is FB. Therefore, one-fifth of the FLY BALLS that come off of his bat are infield fly balls, not one-fifth of total BIP.

  3. By Russ on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    Why is Parrish NOT to blame here? I mean, with exception to McCann, the entire team is hitting poorly… most of which are severely underperforming. At some point, the coach HAS GOT to be useful enough to make the right adjustments and get at least some of them hitting the ball like they should be.

  4. By Russ on Jul 1, 2011 | Reply

    Oh… and PS. I meant to answer your question. Personally, I would prefer us to keep Jurrjens. Pitching wins championships. The Giants proved that for us last year. I'd be far more favorable toward moving Derek Lowe, but IMO, that is still not a very good move.

  5. By Ricardo in ATL on Jul 5, 2011 | Reply

    It used to be that good pitching depth was the mantra of the Braves…because not very many teams had good pitching during the steroid era besides the Braves. I find that a bit of a misnomer right now. Good HITTING is much more valuable.

    Jurrjens stays. We can't trade Lowe except to a team desparate for pitching, and then for little return. Hudson stays, Big Red stays…so onto Brandon Beachball, er Beachy. So many say "with the depth of pitching ready to come up, trade him for a hitter…"

    I think Beachy is an up and comer. At first glane, I remember a trade the Braves made to St. Louis, for a certain right fielder who went on to the Dodgers and Boston…that starter is now an annual Cy Young candidate: Adam Wainwright…

    HOWEVER, with MLB seemingly having turned back the clock to the 1960's, where pitching ruled, I think getting a PROVEN hitter is harder than finding a good starter.

    Trade Beachy for Bourn of the Astros and give the Phillies a headache!


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