August 29, 2011 at 10:22 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
On Friday, the Herald Tribune ran an article by AP sports writer Paul Newberry, in which the headline is “Say What? J-Hey struggles through brutal season.”
It’s hard to argue with the headline. It has been a pretty brutal season for Heyward. He ended last year with an incredible .393 on base percentage and a very impressive 134 wRC+. Today, his slugging percentage matches his on base rate from last year and his wRC+ has fallen 40 points, down to 94.
Everyone expected Heyward to improve upon is stellar rookie campaign, but he took a step backwards. I do not believe anyone is trying to say anything different has happened. There is nobody trying to spin it into a positive, and there really would be no way to do so even if one wanted to.
However, while it has certainly been a down year, Newberry and many others take it a step too far. Here’s a quote from the first page of Newberry’s article.
With his average stuck in the low .200s, it’s no longer possible for the wild card-leading Braves to keep running Heyward out there day after day after day
The reliance that the media, many fans, and potentially the team itself has on batting average is skewing the facts in this scenario. Yes, Heyward’s average is dreadfully low, but there is much more to baseball than batting average, and if you read this site regularly you did not need me to reiterate that for you.
Heyward still walks at a solid rate, he still hits for respectable power numbers despite the high ground ball rate, and he still plays top tier right field defense. His batting average being low is indeed the main cause for concern, but even with an average as low as his currently is he still has value — even to a likely playoff contender.
J.C. Bradbury tweeted this earlier today, which is a statement that is factually undeniable.
For years Braves refused to sit a much worse performing RF when there was a better alternative, now sit a better RF for worse alternative.
Does sitting Jason Heyward, especially while the team has roughly a 98.8 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus, help this team going forward? Since they are so likely to make the playoffs, would it not be wise to put Heyward out there every day so he can get going in time for the playoffs? This is besides the original point, but it is something worth noting.
The dramatization of how poor the season has been is mostly due to the hype surrounding him. He has underwhelmed, and for that reason he sits instead of Jose Constanza or Martin Prado — who actually has the same exact wOBA and wRC+ and has played average left field defense. Acting as if his performance merits benching and that he is “no longer playable” shows ignorance to facts.
The facts, in this case, are that Heyward is able to remain a valuable player despite a low batting average. Some seem to deem this impossible. Those people should read “Moneyball” before the movie comes out in the next few weeks. This is 2011, and people writing about baseball and following it regularly should understand that batting average is far from a tell all. Once upon a time doctors promoted cigarettes, but with more information and better data they were able to find the opposite was true. It’s time for people around baseball to catch up.