Just a couple years ago, it was Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton that were tearing up baseball, looking like an unprecedented pair of rookie talents ready to continue on into the stratosphere together. Now, just two years later, we’ve got Mike Trout and Bryce Harper one-upping them. That’s just how it goes.
With an injury (and a team deflation) taking some of the wind out of Stanton’s sails, and Buster Posey blowing up the National League Most Valuable Player debate, the new toys got a lot more attention than the old new ones. Perhaps rightfully so. But a lot of the value Heyward accumulated last season he did in a fashion that might seem… Troutian.
In the *other* MVP debate, Miguel Cabrera represented, perhaps, a belief in the older-school stats, those three fetishized numbers that have been in the newspapers since the game’s inception. Mike Trout represented, perhaps, a belief that we could quantify the other aspects of the game and assign them value. It’s not so stark — there are reasonable arguments to be made for Cabrera’s dominance at the plate, even if they rely on team- and division-based outcomes in the end — but there was some of that bubbling under the surface of the debate.
Similarly, if you focus on Heyward’s triple crown numbers — .269 with 27 home runs and 82 RBI — you’d be missing all that extra value he added in other facets of the game. Because, even if he did it from the corner outfield, Heyward was able to emulate the Angelic newcomer in a way. Consider this an expansion on Matt Klaasen’s crowning of Jason Heyward as the King oF Little Things if you will.
Sort the leaderboards for “UBR” or Ultimate BaseRunning, and Heyward floats to the top. That’s baserunning without those gaudy stolen bases. Heyward went first to third on a single 15 of 32 times according to BIS, and that’s not quite Trout-level (62%), but it was 15th-best of 180 qualified players. He went second to home on a single 82% of the time, which was 16th-best among 131 players. He went first to home on a double six of nine times, which is about average.
So how did he end up with some of the best non-stolen-base baserunning numbers in the game? Heyward made just one out on an attempted advance in 19 tries. Efficiency.
BIS found more under-cover evidence of his speed: Heyward only grounded into five double plays in 145 GDP opportunities. Only Garrett Jones (three of 108) had a smaller percentage of GDPs with a minimum of 100 opportunities.
All of this he managed while ‘only’ stealing 21 bases.
Jason Heyward got more credit for his defense than Mike Trout, by our numbers. That has something to do with the Angels deciding to play Trout in the corner outfield from time to time, but it also has a lot to do with Heyward having great range for a corner outfielder. From BIS, Heyward had the highest range numbers in the business. UZR’s range component agrees. His arm isn’t great — BIS had him costing the Braves three runs in that manner — but his range was so impressive that he offered center-field like defense even once he was penalized for playing in the corner outfield. In fact, only teammate Michael Bourn managed more defensive value all around from the outfield. Perhaps it’s fitting, if random, that Heyward’s most recent highlights on MLB.com are all home-run-saving catches.
Jason Heyward isn’t Mike Trout. The fact that he gets value from non-traditional means is also not a brain buster. But, when seen in the light of this year’s AL MVP debate, as well as the context of these four young outfielders, it is remarkable that Heyward has taken a similar path to Mike Trout, even with an athleticism that might be touch short of that demonstrated by the American League Rookie of the Year. Since Heyward is also the tallest of the four young outfielders at six-foot-five, we have reason to be worried about how long this can hold up for him.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.