August 20, 2011 at 11:06 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
Unlike petitioning for Jason Heyward to play through injuries that obviously hurt him at the plate, Chipper made some comments about something he is qualified to make comments on. Chipper critiqued Heyward’s swing and spoke of ways he feels he can improve it at the plate.
The approach is already there for Heyward, and the talent is evident to anyone that even knows what baseball is. The swing, however, could have some serious corrections as Chipper points out. From a batted ball standpoint, you don’t want your 6″5, 240lb corner outfielder hitting grounders at a 55% rate, which is what Heyward has done over his first two seasons. That rate shows that there is obvious room for improvement.
The ground ball rate is pretty much solely due to his swing, and the 24.7% infield fly rate this year is too — also due to his shoulder injury. Here is what Chipper had to say about Heyward’s swing, with credit to USA Today for acquiring the quotes and Talking Chop for making them public to most Braves fans.
“Jason’s got one swing. His swing needs some versatility. How many times have we seen him get fooled on an off-speed pitch and one-hand it into centerfield?,” Jones said.
“He swings and misses because he takes the same swing. He’s had some mechanics that have been a little iffy that he is trying to work out. You show me a .300 hitter and I’ll show you a guy who is going to take five different swings.
“He takes a two-handed swing. Have you ever seen him take a one-handed swing? I haven’t either? How many times have you seen me get fooled on a changeup away and one-hand it through the (pitcher’s) box.
The most telling and accurate part to me is about his adaptations to off speed pitches. Chipper Jones is a .300 career hitter because when he is fooled he is able to keep his hands back and take a single when it is all he can get. He has over a .500 slugging percentage because he zones pitches and waits for his pitch in each plate appearance, which is something Heyward has done as well. Being able to put both together is what Heyward needs to do to get more pitches he likes and produce on pitches that would normally become outs.
Making weak contact is never what a player should want to do, but getting the barrel of the bat on pitcher’s pitches and going to center or left on soft liners is a large reason for Chipper being a future Hall-of-Famer. I am not a huge fan of trying to go the other way, but when a player is fooled and has already begun his swing it is sometimes the best option available.
Of course, if it were that easy to have so many different swings then everyone would do it, and everyone would be a Hall-of-Famer like Chipper is going to be. However, Heyward has that type of skill and plate discipline to succeed in the manner that Chipper did. Not many others do.
There are problems with the swing, and keeping two hands on the bat at all times is likely one of them. In contrast, Curtis Granderson has seen his power improve tremendously by going to two hands rather than one, but the same methods do not work for each hitter. Heyward could get more extension and hit for more power if his swing were adapted slightly.
It is easy to understand the reluctance Heyward may have for altering his swing — it has worked his entire life up until this season — but small mechanical changes occur throughout careers. He has tinkered with moving closer and further from the plate, but the biggest problem, in my opinion and apparently in Chipper’s opinion as well, is his swing altogether. This has been the best take on it I have seen so far, and from the most reliable of sources.
Heyward can be a .300 hitter. He showed that he had a quality hit tool last year even with a very high ground ball rate, so exchanging some ground balls for line drives and fly balls could benefit Heyward’s production in a multitude of ways. This is the type of advice Heyward should be taking from Chipper, which is anything but the medical kind.