Jason Heyward as Mike Trout

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.

But for now, we can revel in the fact that Jason Heyward, yeah he does a pretty good Mike Trout impression.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

48 Responses to “Jason Heyward as Mike Trout”

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  1. SSS says:

    Eno, how do you have the nerve to put up a Jason Heyward article before an article about Chone Figgins’ release?

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  2. RMD says:

    Jason Heyward has three Opening Days under his belt and he’s only 23. Trout and Harper have zero. Heyward is still an ongoing project. He’ll always play an A+ outfield, but I don’t think we’ll ever see the patience he had in 2010 coupled with the power he showed in 2012. His SwingingStrike% has gone up every year, but hopefully that’s just an adjustment to his shoulder problems. I think Atlanta will see an 8 WAR year before his arb years are up, but Trout and Harper will be near 8 WAR every year.

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  3. Kolten Wong says:

    When he was still a top prospect, Heyward had “plus-plus arm strength with tremendous carry”, so it’s strange to see him put negative numbers over his career in that area. But his evolution as a base stealer, where to didn’t run very much in the minors to a very efficient base stealer in the majors is impressive.

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    • odditie says:

      Could it be because of accuracy?

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      • cthabeerman says:

        It almost certainly is. Watching most of their games over the past three years, that’s how I would diagnose it.

        He’s got the arm to do some amazing things defensively, but I’ve rarely seen him put the ball on the mark on those occasions when he’s offered those opportunities.

        -C

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  4. Antonio bananas says:

    I really like Heyward. Two 5 WAR seasons by age 23, speed, power, D, plate discipline. I think Heyward has a lot more power potential, he adapted a more aggressive approach. Might hit 30 home runs next year and could still steal 20 bases with gold glove D. As he ages and fills out, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 40 home run season.

    If you were to make absolute ceiling comps for these 4, what do you have? Trout as Mays, Harper as Mantle, Heyward as pre roids Bonds, Stanton as Reggie Jackson? All four seem to have a pretty good shot at greatness.

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    • David says:

      Hmmmm….I’d go with -

      Trout = Mantle
      Heyward = Reggie Jackson
      Harper = Larry Walker
      Stanton = Frank Robinson

      That’s no disrespect to Harper – I personally think Larry Walker is a no-doubt HOFer.

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      • Krog says:

        Your comps fall into the “only comp players of same race” category. I know you aren’t trying to be racist, but try to be more careful with comps next time. Is there any reason why Trout can’t be comped to Willie Mays?

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      • Krog says:

        Before I cause a shitstorm, I just wanted to reference Kevin Goldstein’s former podcast where they discuss how terrible comps are and how they usually are two players of the same race. I am not saying any one here is racist, just that comps themselves seem to have a racial bias.

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      • I Agree Guy says:

        But Mike Stanton is white!

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      • swainzy says:

        And Frank Robinson isn’t Hispanic anyway.

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      • Menthol says:

        Oddly, Trout’s closest comp on baseball-reference.com is Vada Pinson. It’ll be interesting to see how many years it takes for him to get into Mays/Mantle territory. Probably not many.

        I see Heyward as a more complete player than Reggie Jackson – he seems like more of a Jim Edmunds type.

        Stanton actually seems closer to Reggie, in my view.

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      • Justin Smoaked Cheese says:

        Mike Stanton is white, Giancarlo Stanton is all colored up

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      • delv says:

        how about Jason Heyward = JD Drew ?

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      • David says:

        Krog – though Trout and Mantle have similar faces/builds, I compared him to Mickey over Mays because of plate discipline at the same age. Trout at 20: 67BB, 139K, Mantle at 20: 75BB, 111K, Mays at 20: 57BB, 60K. Mays had a gun, Mantle & Trout had/have age arms. Mantle was supposedly the fastest player in either league at 20, same with Trout. Also, Reggie is half latin, Stanton is half white. Can you name another RF who can hit, run, throw, hit for power and play defense like Harper other than Larry Walker? Not even Clemente fits that mold.

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    • Baltar says:

      Hyperbole gone wild!

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  5. To think last off-season a lot of my friends wanted their beloved Braves to trade Heyward. Great article Eno

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  6. Bill Shanks says:

    None of this changes the fact that he doesn’t love baseball.

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  7. Shankbone says:

    I’m a big fan of Heyward, I’m glad he broke out of that “slump” and the Braves stuck with their guy, not that that was a big questionmark. However… As the jokers at PacBell are wont to do:

    “Po-seys Bet-ter!”

    I will now take my immature antics and be gone. Nice write up Eno!

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  8. JT Grace says:

    I would love to see the Braves try to sign Heyward to a contract extension, perhaps buying out his arb years plus two. It would give financial security to heyward in the event of injury and he would still hit free agency as a young man…..and the Braves would have cost certainty with Heyward for the next five years.

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    • Neal says:

      Agreed, I’d even go Arb years +3. If Heyward hits free agency in 3 years at age 26 I doubt the Braves would have the means to re-sign him.

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  9. Jason H says:

    …when the majority of a player’s estimated value is from the factors of the game that we can’t estimate very well, we should be a little skeptical.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I’d say with his patience, power and stolen base speed alone, he was a four-to-five win player, so saying the majority of these things come from things we can’t estimate well isn’t fair. Plus, he passes the eye test when it comes to defense, and baserunning is pretty straight forward. We just don’t know how well it correlates year to year.

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      • Jason H says:

        OK, fair enough. I was not careful with my wording, I intended the “majority of his excess value”. …the value that takes him from being a good to exceptional player.

        As a hitter, he has been good but not exceptional. As a fielder, according to the metric you use, he is otherworldly. …but in reality, he is almost certainly not otherworldly. He is probably good, or maybe very good.

        The baserunning is the same. He is a good baserunner, but take the metric with a grain of salt. A lot of the variation in whether you take an extra base has absolutely nothing to do with the baserunner, and the sample sizes are tiny. The problem isn’t just knowing how well these things correlate from year to year, its also knowing why they correlate. For example if you hit in front of a batter that gets doubles through speed, and not power (e.g. Brett Gardner) , taking an extra base might be hard on “doubles” since those doubles might be singles for other players. On the other hand, taking an extra base on Miguel Cabrera doubles blasted deep into the alley in Comerica might require little more than working legs.

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      • KDL says:

        Summary: I don’t like Heyward that much..so all the numbers must be wrong.

        I mean, he gets easy extra bases when Miguel Cabrera hits doubles!

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      • bstar says:

        Jason H, not to be snarky but I’d suggest watching more Braves game before deducing Heyward is NOT an elite defender. Please list one NL right fielder who deserves to be mentioned with him (think about range here).

        Also, he’s clearly an elite baserunner. I can’t think of another major leaguer who looks more like he’s actually accelerating through a base instead of merely running through it.

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    • swainzy says:

      Why are you being so hard on yourself?

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    • jim says:

      yes, because just maybe, he’s actually a terrible fielder and baserunner, and the nerds are too enthralled with their spreadsheets to realize it.

      there’s a place for acknowledging error potential in data like fielding and baserunning, but i think we can all agree that heyward is both an excellent fielder and baserunner.

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  10. Spencer says:

    It seems Heyward is hardly ever in a spot where he needs to make an assist throw from the outfield. His range holds doubles to singles etc. and runners hardly ever try to advance on him. It seems every time he gets the ball in right, he just makes a nice, easy floater back into the infield. I think his other defensive attributes put him in a position to where he can’t showcase his arm, much different from the bad angle/lack of speed-rocket arm of Francoeur. Long story short, Heyward is rarely in a position where his arm needs to be tested, and that may be why UZR doesn’t like his arm.
    Really excited about his future and his possibility of being a 30/30 player. If the franchise wasn’t so protective of him long-term, I’d like to see him move to center. It would maximize his value and keep his speed tool sharp possibly into his low 30′s. You just wonder how big a toll that would take on a guy that’s 6’5 240. But hey, if Matt Kemp can do it, so can Heyward.

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    • Steve S says:

      Speaking of Matt Kemp’s size, unless Clayton Kershaw is actually a lot taller than the 6’3″ he’s listed as, I’m guessing Matt Kemp is actually more like 6’1″-6’2″, not 6’4″ (picture). I bring this up because I saw him on Kimmel the other night, and was surprised to see he was barely taller than Jimmy.

      Heyward does look like a legit 6’5″, though.

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      • Brandon P says:

        I believe Kershaw looks so much taller because of the camera angle. Kershaw is closer to the camera in a shot where the camera is at a downward angle. If you look at Kershaws right shoulder and Kemps left shoulder you see they are nearly the same height, so either Kershaw has a giant dome or the camera angle is distorting the shot. I have however seen them together on the field and commented that it seemed like Kershaw was just as tall as Kemp if not a hair taller even though Kemp is listed as taller. Kemp 6’2 1/2 and Kershaw 6’3? … sorry I’m sure no one actually cares.

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  11. TKDC says:

    If Heyward can take the next step power-wise and be a mid-to-high 30s homerun hitter (which considering his strength is not a stretch), he’d basically be a hybrid between Stanton and Trout.

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  12. wily mo says:

    adenolith

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  13. Jon L. says:

    I like that across FanGraphs articles today we have reference to the fact that tall players produce declining contact rates (compared to other players) as they age, and that short players do not decline faster than other players (notwithstanding Chone Figgins). This is good news for those of us who are not as tall as the average major league baseball players, especially if we imagine that some component of our lives must be at least vaguely analogous to contact rate.

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    • Brandon P says:

      Hilarious, As I’m 6’1 I’m hoping dating isn’t what is analogous to contact rate. I wonder how I should approach it if it is?. Trade power for contact or swing for the fences. What would be analogous to trading power for contact? (asking out less attractive women, getting more hits but less spectacular results) or maybe I could just realize the contact rate is going to drop and swing for the fences (ask out the hottest women in hopes of making contact). I would call it the Adam Dunn approach but I don’t have nearly as good of an eye ratio … in this instance poor pitch selection might be a good thing … Wait I’m on a baseball site comparing contact rate to dating, what are the odds I was going to get a date anyway? :) Whew, nothing lost.

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  14. Larry says:

    Would Harper be a disappointment if he looked like Heyward the next couple of years?

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  15. monty cristo says:

    freddie freebird the real young talent

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  16. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I predict that Harper will be a lot better, Trout will be a lot worse and Heyward will continue to improve this year.

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