You Want Jason Heyward

In case you were trapped in a coal mine or under a rock somewhere and hadn’t heard the news, Justin Upton was traded from Arizona to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday morning. Articles and opinions have wallpapered the internet discussing things like Upton’s home/road splits, his expected performance now that he’s playing side by side with brother B.J., and where he is now ranked amongst baseball’s outfielders in both real life and in fantasy. To me, it seems redundant to perpetuate the conversation. He’s a highly-regarded player with immense talent, is just 25 years old, and is heading to a competitive organization that has shown a commitment to winning. Is he suddenly going to suck? No. So long as he stays healthy, an issue that he has dealt with in his relatively young but seemingly long career, Upton is going to continue to be a highly-regarded player with immense talent, has youth on his side, and is playing for a winning ball club. If you own him in your fantasy league, you’re psyched, and if you need reassurances and your hand held any further on the matter, consider it done. But we’ve got a bigger fish to fry here.

It’s time for me to officially plant my flag and stake my claim on the player whom I believe will have the biggest breakthrough performance this season. He’s the one who you are going to want to make sure you own on each and every one of your fantasy teams. He’s the one whose name you immediately gravitate towards when you open your live scoring page. He’s the one that every other owner in your league will pester you for right up until your league trade deadline passes. That’s right…he’s this year’s Adam Jones.

If you couldn’t tell by last week’s Keeper League Would You Rather as to where I am hitching my wagon this year, the title of today’s post says it all. Especially now with this new era of the Atlanta Braves being ushered in, you want Jason Heyward. By the end of the season, he will be listed amongst the top 10 outfielders in fantasy and will likely adorn the cover of several 2014 fantasy magazines.

So why Heyward? Simple. It’s his time. There’s no denying that he has the raw skills to be an amazing player — possessing both the power and speed found only in some of the game’s most elite group. We saw it when he was first drafted, we saw it when he was sailing through the Braves minor league system and we saw it when his talent forced Bobby Cox to keep him up with the big club in 2010.

He showed a lot that first season. Most impressive was his 14.6-percent walk rate and the veteran-like plate discipline he showed as a 20-year old in his rookie season. Usually when you have a guy with such tremendous power potential, he just wants to tear the cover off the ball and is less likely to show enough patience to take a pitch. Heyward went into it with an intent to learn the big league game. He was content to bide his time and wait for the pitches to come to him. Sure, he struck out a little more than 20-percent of the time. It’s a learning curve. But overall, the results by year end were favorable and you knew he was going to build off of the experience.

Year two was thwarted by a thumb injury he really had no business playing through as much as he did. You can’t fault his competitive edge and desire to remain in the lineup, but obviously, it was a dark cloud that hovered over him throughout the season. His walk rate dropped, the contact he was making was weak and his numbers suffered because of it. It was an aggravating season both for him and his supporters, but he never got too down on himself and looked ahead to the future.

Heyward seemed to walk into 2012 with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Now healthy, he was out to prove that the 2011 season was not a proper representation of who he was and was determined to have a much stronger year. Finishing up with a 20-20 season was more like it, but it did come with a few caveats. First off, he was much more aggressive at the plate. He was swinging at a lot more pitches, both inside and outside the zone. Yes, the results improved in his counting stats, but in reality, his game suffered as his walks dropped, his strikeouts increased and he made less contact overall. Solid numbers, but this wasn’t the same player we saw during the 2010 rookie campaign. And by year end, you could see that he knew it as his frustration built by a statistically weak September that saw his ground ball rate spike to an all-time high. Change was coming.

This is the year that it all comes together for him. He knows that he has to regain the plate discipline that helped him make it as a rookie and combine that with the matured power he was able to put on display last season. As someone who is ultimately patient, an open-minded learner, and has the pure talent of a soon-to-be-great ballplayer, Heyward is ready to put it all together and fully blossom into the amazing player he knows he can be. The fact that the Braves have now gone out and acquired such talent as the Upton brothers to play alongside him is really just icing on the cake. Draft him now and you can thank me later.

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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

34 Responses to “You Want Jason Heyward”

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  1. CookieRojas16 says:

    Howard, love your stuff, but this would have been more relevant a year ago. Heyward is already in several top ten OF lists I’ve seen. I agree that upside remains, but you can’t really call it a breakout if it does happen. Now Desmond Jennings vaulting into the 2014 top ten OFs, THAT will be a breakout.

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  2. Freddy T says:

    If it’s as good as that Adam Jones call was last year, I’m buying!

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  3. Fatbot says:

    Great writing, entertaining, and I’m on board for Heyward’s upcoming stardom. But forgive the skeptic in me for remembering your earlier work:

    That’s littered with names who were supposed to “put it all together because it was their time”… and didn’t…

    So with all due respect, this is fangraphs, no? Isn’t there supposed to be some kind of fancy metric/peripheral/whatchacallit statistical basis to prove *why* Heyward will go nuts versus all those other busts (other than “Upton just got traded”)? Where’s the historical data comparing similar players in similar situations? The BABIP analysis? Did his September trending prove a breakout is imminent? Do all young players with thumb injuries swing more/walk less then magically revert to better walk rates/more patience when healed?

    Well, certainly nobody will pass on Heyward based on what he’s done and already projected for next season (fairly based on his BB & K rates ticking up/down just a percent or two). But as far as anything substantial backing a season beyond his projections, all I see here is the time honored “seat of the pants gut feel”..!

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    • derekdeg says:

      There is no metric that can accurately predict what a player is going to do. Find me one that predicted brian wilson going down after his second appearance. Find me one that had chase headley having the better seeaon than joey votto. Of course all of it is a “gut feeling.” We are dealing with humans, which a fallible, and therefore unpredictable. If you can’t understand this you need to find a different hobby.

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      • Fatbot says:

        If only somebody told Bill James this years ago he wouldn’t have wasted so much time on his hobby.

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      • Jon L. says:

        I’m with Fatbot here. I enjoyed the article, but it is about someone’s personal impression, and nothing else.

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      • Scruge says:

        Ah, the old “you can’t predict with 100% certainty therefore prediction is impossible” line. It’s definitely valid criticism on FG to say that the author hasn’t given us a lot of evidence for his assertions. This blog post was more of a story than a presentation of evidence and most FG readers come here for evidence and reasoning based on evidence. I’m not saying this article is inappropriate or anything, just that it’s not a typical FG bread-and-butter post.

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    • rotowizard says:

      “This is FanGraphs, no?”

      Actually, this is RotoGraphs. You might have miss a left turn and ended up here somewhere down the road.

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      • THOR says:

        it says “” at the top for me, so i think it’s still safe to call it fangraphs

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  4. theojd says:

    Agree with above. As far as most people are concerned, Heyward is already to p 10 OF material…..if not higher. I mean, guy did nearly go 30-20 last year.

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  5. Ray says:

    speaking of chips on their shoulder, Justin Upton has a huge chip on his shoulder this season. I see a monster season from him. Some of this is gut feeling, but too much has been made of his down year in 2012. He cut his strikeout rate a ton, and battled a thumb injury all season. The 30+ home run power returns in 2013.

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    • Jimbo says:

      The 30+ power already returned! 6 of his 17 HR came in September when his thumb was healed enough to remove the protective thingymajig.

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  6. janustattoo says:

    I remain more bearish on Heyward for 2013, so I will play devil’s advocate. Do I agree with the upside potential? 100 times yes. But that potential has to come at the right price, and I don’t plan to promote him to the upper echelons without more proof.

    In three big league seasons, his bb/k has fallen every year, his contact % has fallen every year, and his O-Swing % has risen. Three big negatives for me. He has hit flyballs at an increasing rate each year, but his hr/fb has been reasonably steady, so what will happen to his babip and avg? Look at 2012’s first half/second half splits — there his gb/fb flipflops at mid-season (though his hr/fb improves).

    I just sorted 2012 OF’s by wRC+ — Heyward is 26th. Sort by wOBA — Heyward is 27th. Sort by ISO (his biggest gainer last year) — Heyward is 21st. Can you give him a bump due to his SB? Not much, because most of the guys above him offer some speed, too. But to take him inside the top 10 OF’ers in 2013? Too big of a gamble for me just yet.

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    • theojd says:

      Who’s in your top 10?

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      • Sean says:

        I don’t know about his top 10, but at MDC Heyward is going 14th, behind Trout, Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, CarGo, Bautista, J. Upton, Harper, Adam Jones, Hamilton, Stanton, Ellsbury, and Granderson.

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      • Jimbo says:

        If Heyward is “your guy” I wouldn’t blink at someone drafting him behind Trout, Braun, Kemp, McCutchen, CarGo.

        Bautista – age/wrist
        J-Up – change of scenery
        Harper – sophomore concerns (see Heyward, J)
        Jones – newly elite
        Hamilton – he’s Josh Hamilton
        Stanton – lineup/not a 5-category guy
        Ellsbury – power concerns
        Granderson – age/avg

        If someone thinks Heyward’s floor is 2012, and his ceiling even higher…could make a case for him in the top 6. Easily.

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      • Stan Gable says:

        I could see the case over many of those names, but it’d be tough (for me at least) to consider Jason Heyward over Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Bautista &/or Josh Hamilton in 2013. I’d probably put him 5th (right behind Adam Jones & directly in front of Justin Upton).

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  7. Bobby W says:

    Is this article a joke? Heyward is a top 15-20 pick. Not exactly a sleeper. That’s like saying ” you want Ryan Braun” back in 2008.

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    • Snarf says:

      What he’s saying is that Heyward will give you 1st round talent from picking him at the back end of the second round.

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      • Howard Bender says:

        Trying to figure out the best way to equate it…..

        Watching your son take his first steps?

        Seeing that son graduate as the high school valedictorian?

        Thank you, Snarf.

        You have just made me extremely proud.

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      • Yeah says:

        Snarf? Thunder Cats reference? interesting.

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  8. bobcat says:

    ells before heyward is nuts

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  9. Stuckey says:

    “You could see that he knew it as his frustration built by a statistically weak September that saw his ground ball rate spike to an all-time high.”

    “He knows that he has to regain the plate discipline that helped him make it as a rookie”

    “Usually when you have a guy with such tremendous power potential, he just wants to tear the cover off the ball and is less likely to show enough patience to take a pitch.”

    “He never got too down on himself and looked ahead to the future.”

    I’ll see your unsubstantiated claim and raise you a cliched oversimplification. There are many reasons to be bullish on Jason Heyward, but editorializing about his psyche doesn’t hit any of them. Fangraphs is better than this.

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  10. Mike says:

    Heyward was a top 10 fantasy outfielder last year, saying he will be this year is about as tame a prediction as you can make.

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  11. Will H. says:

    The fatal flaw here is in the opening line: if you were trapped in a coal mine, you’d also be under a rock, so “or” shouldn’t have been used.

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  12. kiss my GO NATS says:

    If I draft a highly touted player he has a 50/50 chance of playing in less than 100 games. It is my wish that Heyward not do very well, so I am drafting him on every fantasy team I draft…..

    I will draft him and watch him run into the outfield fence like Griffey did for me all those years ago and Arron Rowand did in 2006. I drafted Brian Roberts in 2010. I could go on and on mentioning player after player, but you get the point.

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  13. sboston says:

    I sure would feel a lot better if he was hitting 4th or 5th. The increase in the fly ball rate, the lowered walk rates, the higher K rates clearly show he’s becoming a much more aggressive hitter. Does that work in the 2 hole? Not sure why they don’t put BJ as a 2 hitter, and force him to take more walks instead of Heyward.

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  14. obvious says:

    Way to go out on a limb here…the #7 ranked OF on Yahoo is going to break into the top 10 OF’s this season? I want my 5 minutes back.

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    • Howard Bender says:

      This article and my growing obsession with Heyward began long before Yahoo’s rankings were released or even the Upton trade. And now that I’ve just wasted three minutes of my time we can say that I only owe you two minuets. But there’s also a snark tax, my friend, so why don;t we just call it even, shall we? Stay classy, Obvious, and thanks for stopping by.

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