The Second Breakout of Jason Heyward

It was a crucial season at the plate for Jason Heyward. After turning in an extremely promising rookie season, Heyward slumped badly as a sophomore. Though he was just age-22, Heyward had a lot of pressure on him heading into his third season. He did not disappoint. Heyward hit .269/.335/.479 in 651 plate appearances with the Atlanta Braves, slugging 27 home runs and stealing 21 bases. He managed to re-establish himself as one of the best young players in the game. At an age where some prospects are still in the minors, Heyward has already managed to churn out two highly productive major league seasons. Though he took a slight detour, his career to stardom is back on track.

When sorting by career wOBA among outfielders, Heyward finds himself with nearly the same offensive value as Andruw Jones, another great young outfielder. But Jones isn’t a perfect comparison for Heyward, as he didn’t walk as much, and showed more power and speed over this period. Still, there are plenty of promising players on that list that put up similar wOBAs at the same age. There are, however, two other players that produced slightly better wOBAs than Heyward, but showed almost identical skills.

At this point in his career, Heyward has displayed nearly the same skill set as both Darryl Strawberry and Justin Upton.

Young OFs BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA
Justin Upton 11% 26% 0.277 0.359 0.482 0.363
Darryl Strawberry 11.30% 24.10% 0.254 0.340 0.487 0.359
Jason Heyward 11.60% 21.60% 0.261 0.352 0.447 0.350

*It’s important to note that Strawberry did not play in the majors during his age-20 season, but since we are using wOBA, which is not a counting stat, it shouldn’t matter much for the purpose of the comparison.

With the exception of a lower slugging percentage, those three players are incredibly similar. And if you’re of the belief that most of Heyward’s sophomore struggles were the result of a shoulder injury, it’s not hard to see how Heyward could have ended up even with, or better than, both Upton and Strawberry.

Being in the company of those two players is high praise, and it makes things look even better for Heyward next year. At age-23, both Upton and Strawberry showed that there was still some improvement in their hitting ability. Upton contended for the National League MVP, hitting .289/.369/.529, with a .385 wOBA. The .385 wOBA wasn’t necessarily a breakout for Upton, as he posted the same number during his age-21 season, but it was an improvement from his sophomore slump. Though Strawberry was limited to just 111 games, he broke out in a big way. Strawberry hit .277/.389/.557 during his age-23 season.

Using two players to show that Heyward will definitely improve is far from a large sample, but it’s certainly a reason for optimism. Heyward may be young, but he’s already emerged as one of the best players in the game. And the best part is, as Upton and Strawberry have shown, there’s reason to believe that the best is yet to come. Heyward will likely command a high pick in most fantasy leagues next season. If he’s anything like Upton or Strawberry, he’ll be well worth the investment.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


4 Responses to “The Second Breakout of Jason Heyward”

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  1. bjs2025 says:

    I had Heyward for $36 in ottoneu and do not like overpaying outfielders as they are so deep and easily replaceable. I love him but traded him for Jarrod Parker, Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong. Decent value I believe.

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  2. Dave S says:

    Love the Strawberry comp.
    Their L/R splits as 22 yo are quite similar.

    Straw:
    vsR: .265 .371 .518 .889
    vsL: .222 .278 .359 .637

    Hey:
    vsR: .300 .372 .563 .934
    vsL: .224 .280 .354 .635

    The next season, Straw added a tad more vsRHP, and a lot more vsLHP.

    age23 Straw:
    vsR: .291 .414 .591 1.005
    vsL: .256 .348 .506 .855

    It’s promising that Heyward is already performing at such a high level, despite an area where he can still improve. If he improves vs LHP, he could certainly “breakout” yet again…

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    • jcxy says:

      Yeah, Straw is definitely interesting. I’m probably a little less bullish than you on Heyward’s prospects vsLHP. Straw actually finished with a .238 BAA LHP for his career and that 3rd year you cite where he hit .256 was more likely an outlier than skill improvement given the following (pre-92) years of data.

      Not that this is bad…if Heyward follows Straw’s path and never learns to hit lefties better than Ryan Howard has…he’s still a bona fide stud.

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  3. YanksFanInBeantown says:

    Of course, if you give Heyward credit for the shoulder injury you should give Upton credit for the oblique injury in 2010, so it’s not hard to see how Upton could have ended up not even part of this article as a possible Heyward comp.

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