July 15, 2011 at 2:20 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Dave Golebiewski of RotoGraphs put together a very sold post on Jason Heyward’s unfortunate sophomore season. Detailing the problems he has had with injuries, ground ball rates, his batting average on those ground balls, and decreased plate discipline, Golebiewski basically stated what most of us have been watching and feeling since mid-April. Something is not quite right, whether it be injury or poor luck in certain areas.
Heyward’s ISO sits at a near identical .178 compared to .179 last year, and his walk and strikeout rates are not terribly different than his rookie season’s as well — an 11.1 BB% is still impressive. The big difference between 2010 Heyward and 2011 Heyward is his BABIP, which sat at .335 last year and is .256 this year. As Golebiewski points out, much of that is due to his .188 average on ground balls. Last year, Heyward’s average on ground balls was .272 — good for 44th highest in the majors. His .188 mark this year is the 162nd best. Obviously there has been a considerable drop off, and this is the reason why his OBP sits at .315 rather than ~.370.
So is it bad luck, or is he just hitting the ball dead into the ground more often? It is probably a bit of both. He has substituted some line drives for a grounders and fly balls. Heyward seems to have a downward swing that will probably always keep his ground ball rate above 50%, which is not something you would want out of a 6″5, 250lb hitter. But, that’s his swing and that is likely who he will be going forward.
However, he has managed hit more fly balls this year than last and his GB/FB rate has improved, even if it is a slight improvement. The infield fly rate that Golebiewski points out has to be an outlier. There is simply on way that Heyward’s swing is fashioned to a 22.6% infield fly rate. Combine that extremely odd number with his 17.0% HR/FB ratio — which was expected to decrease from last season but has actually increased — and you have roughly 40% of Heyward’s fly balls ending up either over the fence or still in the infield. That’s a pretty big difference from 25% last year. The infield fly rate is likely to change, and could have certainly been the result of playing through an injured shoulder, but the ground balls seem like they are here to stay.
ZiPS has Heyward hitting .267/.375/.462 the rest of the way, which equates to a .370 wOBA with identical second home run and steal totals of nine home runs and five respectively. This seems pretty much exactly what I would project as well, as his career BABIP of .311 looks to be more the norm than the .335 that he had last season. Heyward’s season ending numbers will not look as pretty as hoped before the season, but if his batted ball profile normalizes and he is able to stay healthy he should be able to produce well above average numbers for the rest of the year.