Jason Heyward Has Made Some Weird Decisions

I don’t know what the scariest thing is about the Cubs. It might be that they have baseball’s best record, and a historically excellent run differential. Or maybe it’s that they have baseball’s best record, and a historically excellent run differential, while Jason Heyward has been a worse hitter than Alexei Ramirez (who has been a bad hitter). Heyward hasn’t gotten going yet, not even a little bit, and the Cubs have barely noticed. You might feel like the Cubs are overhyped. I get it. And, you’re wrong.

Let’s preface this with something. We’re about to talk about Heyward’s offensive struggles. Heyward has a career 116 wRC+, and he’s 26 years old, so he’s probably not broken. Not beyond repair. His career wRC+ in the first month is 96 — he’s genuinely something of a slow starter. There’s every reason to expect that Heyward is going to settle into a groove at some point. Typically, given enough time, good players find their level. This doesn’t mean Heyward hasn’t had a bad start, though. He knows it. The coaches know it. And to this point, Heyward has shown a somewhat unusual plan of attack. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, I don’t know.

We can preface this with another something! Heyward has been nursing a sore wrist. He reportedly first tweaked it in an early series against Arizona. Could be, that’s all we need to know. Maybe that’s everything. Or, maybe it’s not, or maybe it’s nothing at all. Heyward hasn’t used it as an excuse and the Cubs haven’t seemed very worried. It’s easy to blame wrist discomfort for every last offensive ill, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Let’s just agree to keep it in mind.

One thing you might notice just glancing at Heyward’s player page: his hard-hit rate is way down. That’s not surprising, given his offensive profile. He has yet to hit a home run. His soft-hit rate, meanwhile, has climbed. It’s actually higher than his hard-hit rate, by almost a dozen percentage points. That’s objectively terrible. Now let’s introduce some career context. Heyward has played in 23 games this season. Here’s a plot of 23-game rolling averages, over Heyward’s career, showing the difference between hard-hit and soft-hit rate:

heyward-career-hard-soft

Heyward has been down here before. He hasn’t made a habit of it, but we could consider him a “social” weak hitter. He had some deep, deep problems in his sophomore campaign. He hasn’t been that low since, but at least this isn’t unprecedented. I think that’s comforting? Granted, every slump is different, but Heyward’s had slumps. He also has that 116 wRC+. He’s found his level.

There’s another thing that’s easy to notice. Heyward, this year, is seeing more fastballs than ever. Compared to last year, he’s up six percentage points, which is one of the greater increases league-wide. What that suggests is a change in perception — opposing pitchers think Heyward won’t hit the heat so well. Now, most of the Cubs have seen more fastballs, so some of this would just have to do with opposing pitcher identity. But maybe this hints at a vulnerability. Keep that in mind as you look at the following.

Here’s how Heyward has produced over the course of his career. Red means he’s been better; blue means he’s been worse. This is a plot of run values, but you can just think of it as an ordinary hot/cold map.

heyward-career-raa-zones

Heyward, in the past, has been at his best down low. This has held pretty steady. He’s struggled, though, in the upper half of the zone. All that blue tells a pretty convincing story. This isn’t super unusual — plenty of hitters prefer pitches down or up. But that’s Heyward. Now consider what’s next. On the left, Heyward’s swing habits through last season. On the right, Heyward’s swing habits this season.

heyward-swing-maps

Heyward, this year, has swung a lot more often at pitches up, and he’s swung less often at pitches down. Put another way: he’s swung more often in areas where he’s been historically weak, and he’s swung less often in areas where he’s been historically strong. These are the weird decisions. Heyward has swung 50% of the time at pitches thigh-high and up. That’s easily a career high. He’s swung 35% of the time at the lower pitches. That’s easily a career low.

To put it differently: in the past, Heyward’s swing rate at low pitches was higher than his swing rate at high pitches, by seven percentage points. This year, Heyward’s swing rate at high pitches is higher than his swing rate at low pitches, by 15 percentage points. He’s reversed what’s been normal, and at least based on what he’s done before, that’s not a good idea.

There are two potential interpretations. One, this is unintentional. Heyward just hasn’t been himself, and his eye is all screwy, and he’s made some bad decisions. Two, this is intentional. Following this line of thinking, maybe the Cubs have made some tweaks and recommended that Heyward work higher up. Maybe they think it would be easier for him to get some loft. If this were to be true, it clearly hasn’t worked out yet, but these things take time. Maybe he’s right on the verge of breaking out.

What we have is what we have. Jason Heyward, at the plate, has been even more frustrating than usual. It could really just all come down to his wrist, but that doesn’t quite explain why he’d be swinging more up, and less down. The Cubs have made certain minor adjustments to Heyward, but Heyward’s career spans countless minor batting adjustments, and he doesn’t seem dramatically different. It’s just his numbers that are awful. With his old swing, part of Heyward’s problem has been pitch selection. He just hasn’t been able to punish those pitches up. If this is on purpose, he simply hasn’t yet gotten comfortable. And maybe he won’t, until he goes back to his old approach. Pretty much every aspect of Jason Heyward’s offense has been worse. Presumably, he will snap out of it. He always has. At that point, it’ll be interesting to see which pitches he’s hitting. Because to this point, he’s tried to hit different pitches.

We hoped you liked reading Jason Heyward Has Made Some Weird Decisions by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Peter
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Peter

Why would it be “scary” that they’re doing great even though some of their guys are underperforming? Perhaps it would be “scary” if Jason Hammel was truly a 1.24 ERA pitcher and Dexter Fowler had a true talent OBP of .476 as well. Just as Heyward will get better, Hammel and Fowler will cool off. It’s a silly line of reasoning. The Cubs are really good even without trying to give them extra credit because Jason Heyward has sucked this year.

jhalpin23
Member
Member
jhalpin23

I definitely see your point, obviously Hammel and Fowler are way over their head along with a couple bench pieces but a lot of the Cubs regulars have been pretty unlucky so far with BABIP. Rizzo 188, Soler 209, Russell 254, and Zobrist and Heyward in the 270s. Should be interesting to see how it plays out.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

It would indeed be scary if Arrieta could maintain an LOB% of 95.2% and a BABIP of .188, Lester could maintain an LOB% of 94.7% and a BABIP of .250, Hammel could maintain an LOB% of 91.8% and a BABIP of .260, and Travis Wood could maintain an LOB% of 89.3% and a BABIP% of .188. It would be scary if the Cubs could continue 33 points higher in High-Leverage than in Low-Leverage situations (.274 vs. .241). It would be scary if the Cubs had the record they had playing against teams more impressive than the Brewers, the Reds, the Angels, the Padres, and the Diamondbacks. But we don’t want to think about those things, do we?

victorvran
Member
victorvran

You’re so salty and it’s hilarious

vivalajeter
Member
vivalajeter

None of that is scarier than giving up 12 runs in an inning before getting the second out (especially when the first out was a Sac Bunt by the pitcher).

Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back
Member
Serbian to Vietnamese to French and back

It would be really scary if Arrieta, can maintain 59.2% and BABIP Loeb. 188 Lester can maintain 94.7% and BABIP Loeb. 250 Hummel may hold a 57.0 %% and BABIP Loeb. easy maintenance and 260 Travis Wood has 55.5%, Loeb and BABIP% compared to the 188. It would be terrible if the bears can still 33 points higher than in situations of high leverage low leverage (. 274 241). It would be terrible if the hatchlings have a record, they are faced with the most impressive team of beavers, red, Angels, Padres and fish. However, we do not want to think about it, is not it?

jhalpin23
Member
Member
jhalpin23

Hahaha I love this guy…yeah those numbers are going to go down a bit, not sure why you are including Travis Wood and his 7 innings pitched on the season in there though. And the offense has been pretty close to equally unlucky so you can probably expect the Cubs pitching to regress a bit on one side and the offense to regress positively to the other side.

Also, winning 75% of your games against any competition is excellent no matter who you are playing. But I guess this week will be a good test for them against Pittsburgh and Washington, unless they do well then I’m sure you will have another excuse of why they aren’t good.

victorvran
Member
victorvran

Those pesky beavers…

Kyle
Member
Kyle

Oh man, your right, how ever will the Cubs survive when 5th (6th?) best option out of the bullpen Travis Wood starts to regress.

Man, let it go. They won 97 games last year, they have the best record in the majors and project to have the best record the rest of the way. Some guys are overperforming after a month, an equal number are probably underperforming. This argument applies for literally every time. Just stop fighting the answer that is staring you in the face and accept that the Cubs are a great team and beating yourself bloody against every pro-Cubs article (and this one is literally about one of their players having a worrisome bad stretch anyway) before you give yourself a grabber.

Kyle
Member
Kyle

you’re right*

Brians Sticky Sock
Member
Brians Sticky Sock

I bet GiantsFanJohn is fun at parties!!!

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Some of their guys are overperforming? 3 of their 5 starting pitchers have an average lob% of 93.9% and this is described as some of their guys are overperforming?

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Only maintained for 25 starts.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Oh my god, you really don’t understand how lucky that is? Last year there was no starter in baseball with over 86% lob%, 1 with over 82%, 4 with 80% or more. What these three are doing is luck off the charts. I think you better learn some more about this.

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

I’m talking about arrietta, sure Hammel is a mid 3 era guy. Lester is probably a high 2’s guy. They are outscoring opponents by 4 runs a game though, so that would mean they have to be true talent 5 e.r.a guys for that to have any merit to them winning.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Oh come on. In the last 5 years, lester’s era is over 3.5 and hammel’s is over 4. And arrieta has pitched a qualifying number of innings a grand total of once in his career, at the end on which he was clearly running out of gas.

Luy
Member
Luy

You keep screaming LUCK LUCK….but BaseRuns AND Pythag say the Cubs should have a better record than their actual record.
If anything…doesn’t this suggest they’ve been unlucky?

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

In his last 460 innings lester has a 2.70 e.r.a with a fip below 3. Arrietta ran out of gas by having 28 strikeouts in 19 and 2/3 postseason innings?

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

Um, you don’t seem to know too much about statistics. Baseruns and Pythag specifically DON’T take into consideration unsustainable lob%, unsustainable babip, unsustainable high-leverage hitting, and unsustainable grouping of hits to produce runs, all of which the Cubs clearly have shown this year. You need to learn more before you can participate in discussions like this.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

in other words (obviously I have to spell this out for you in simple terms so that you’ll understand), the Baseruns and Pythag data which you are referring to are themselves the product of radical luck by the Cubs (and their easy schedule).

A Flock of Seagers
Member
A Flock of Seagers

@johnforthegiants:

“Oh come on. In the last 5 years, lester’s era is over 3.5 and hammel’s is over 4. And arrieta has pitched a qualifying number of innings a grand total of once in his career, at the end on which he was clearly running out of gas.”

Clearly, YOU never run out of gas.

cmpody
Member
cmpody

I’ve figured it out, you own Hector Rondon on all of your fantasy teams and desperately need him to start getting some save opportunitie!!! It’s gotta be frustrating to know the Cubs have won 16 games already by more than 3 runs. I mean, help a brother out, right?!? Win some games 6-3 or 5-2 instead of 7-2 everyday!

cmpody
Member
cmpody

Maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that they have good pitchers and a really good defense. They don’t walk people, they don’t give up many HRs, they strike out a lot of people, they give up more soft contact than anybody and it’s usually on the ground and they have one of the best infield defenses in baseball to gobble up that contact. It’s not hard to understand why they don’t allow many runs. And luck has only a tiny little bit to do with it.

johnforthegiants
Member
johnforthegiants

And in terms of the hitters they’ve been getting very lucky in terms of getting hits so as to maximize their runs (2nd in re24 and way above everybody but stl although only 7th in wrc+) and to maximize their wins (33 points higher in avg in hl situations than in ll situations).

Brians Sticky Sock
Member
Brians Sticky Sock

No one is saying the Cubs are going to continue to win 75% of their games, not even Cubs fans.

Every MFN artice, my lord dude, give it a rest.

Did a baby cub eat your puppy or something?

Chip Locke
Member
Chip Locke

I envy the fact that pro-cubs articles are the greatest source of anguish in your life.

Johnston
Member
Johnston

More Cubs articles please! Anything that irritates Giants fans is a wonderful thing.

374285942768
Member
374285942768

i doubt you’ve watched a single cubs game this year. batted ball is hardly the only reason the cubs are maximizing wins is also not the biggest reason they are always in position to score runs, but the fact that they have an astronomic walk rate and are by far the best base running team. best defensive team. do you take that into account before you whine about how ‘lucky’ they are?

JediHoyer
Member
JediHoyer

Lester and arrietta might add 1 run/9ip to their e.r.a, and hammel might add 2, but wait they are outscoring opponents by 4 runs per game?

cmarts cups
Member
cmarts cups

Yes, I’m right there with you. Fowler has been Barry Bonds and the pitching staff is performing at an unsustainable level overall. Thing will even out.

vivalajeter
Member
vivalajeter

It’s a figure of speech, Peter. If the Cubs were tanking, someone might say “it’s scary that they’re in last place even though Hammel has a 1.24 ERA and Fowler has a .476 OBP”.