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Can Heyward Lay Off Breaking Balls in the Dirt?

Watching the Braves’ game on Sunday, I think, the announcer noted that Jason Heyward was having trouble laying-off breaking pitches in the dirt, and that is what it looked like to me in the couple of at-bats I have seen from him. I turned to the pitchf/x data to see whether that was the case. Here I plot all non-fastballs Heyward has seen so far: the pitches are color-coded with the FanGraphs PitchF/X section’s color scheme: whiffed pitches are encircled and contacted ones ex-ed. The graph is from the catcher’s perspective, so Heyward, a lefty, stands to the right of the zone, and the location indicated is where the pitch crosses the plate.

That is a striking trend. Of the 18 non-fastballs below the zone, he has swung at 12 of them and not made contact with one. On non-fastballs in the zone, on the other hand, he has 16 swings and just one whiff — and actually swings at a smaller percentage of non-fastballs in the zone than below the zone. So it does look like Heyward is having quite a problem laying off those pitches, and that results in tons of swinging strikes.

At just twenty years old, even a player as phenomenal as Heyward is going to have a transition period — Dave C. talked a little bit about this in yesterday’s podcast. In 31 PAs so far Heyward has an encouraging three HRs and five walks, but also ten strikeouts. So it looks like a big part of this transition period might be these low breaking balls and changeups that will result in a number of swinging strikes. And he will only see more of these pitches going forward if he continues to struggle with them.