Bust Alert: Why Jason Heyward Could Be A Major Disappointment In 2012

Jason Heyward is a player that everyone wants to believe is going to be a major star.  The question is, does his tendency to consistently drive the ball into the ground (54.6% groundball rate over his first two seasons) limit his potential upside?  Let’s take a look at a few numbers to help us.

Over the past three years there have been 65 seasons by players qualifying for the batting title posting a groundball rate of 50% or higher (the highest being Derek Jeter, at 65.7% in 2010).  Obviously a lot of these players are going to be among the best speed options in the league, like Ichiro Suzuki or Michael Bourn.  The fact that Heyward’s name is in a discussion with them alone should make us all nervous.  While he has some speed, that’s certainly not his game.  If that’s the company he is going to keep, he is destined to be a disappointment.

Obviously it should go without saying that, if you pound the ball into the ground you aren’t going to hit many home runs.  Here’s the breakdown of what those 65 seasons produced:

  • Less than 10 HR = 42
  • 10+ Home Runs = 23
  • 15+ Home Runs = 9
  • 20+ Home Runs = 4

Obviously there is an exception to any rule, but over 66% of the time if you have a player who posts a groundball rate of at least 50% they are going to hit less than 10 HR.  To make matters worse, 80% of the time you are going to hit less than 15 HR. 

You want to point to the four season of a player who hit at least 20 HR?  Three of them were from Hunter Pence and the other was Hanley Ramirez.

While we would like to think that Heyward could develop into a similar player to Pence, if everything falls right that would currently be his upside.  Unfortunately it’s a longshot that everything falls into place.  Pence is going to hit in the middle of the Phillies lineup, but can we say that for certain with Heyward?

We know that Brian McCann and Dan Uggla are going to be there.  Chipper Jones could open the year hitting third, but sooner or later he will likely give way to a younger player.  People may want to think that it’ll be Heyward, but Freddie Freeman has just as good of an opportunity.  In fact, having hit .282 with 21 HR in ’11 you can say that Freeman could be more likely.

If Heyward is hitting sixth or seventh and driving the ball into the ground how much value could he possibly have?  Throw in that he’s proven to be an injury risk and there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical.

Obviously things aren’t all negative.  If he can reduce the groundball rate and start hitting the ball with more authority (13.1% line drive rate in ’11) things would look better.  He also should be able to improve on his BABIP (.260).  However, there’s a lot of what if and what could be at play.

He’s currently the 31st outfielder coming off the board (ADP of 106.28 according to Mock Draft Central).  On the other hand I have him ranked 51st among outfielders.  In my opinion everything needs to go perfectly for him to produce big numbers.  That’s a risky proposition.  Does he have the potential?  Absolutely, as we can all see the talent.  However, until he actually displays it I am going to remain skeptical in yearly formats.

What are your thoughts of Heyward?  Do you think he will reach his potential in 2012?  Why or why not?

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  1. Doug b says:

    Heyward was hurt last year. Removing last year and taking his minor league stats, what is his GB rate?

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      In 2010 (520 AB) his groundball rate was 55.1% with the Braves, worse than his 53.9% mark in ’11. My concern in that regard has nothing to do with the injuries, it is purely what he has shown thus far at the Major League level.

  2. MJ says:

    The major concern with Heyward are all the minor injuries, not the GB rate in my opinion. He’s a 22 year old kid who seems more than willing to learn. I am quite certain someone within the Braves organization will talk to him about his swing and make the necessary adjustments. You make it seem like he is who he is and at the age of 22 he won’t change.

    Will he break-out this year….I have no idea. But I am willing to roll the dice on him each of the next 3 seasons. Because if an when it does finally click for him you’ll never have another chance to get a player like him.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      I’m not saying that he’s going to be a complete bust, but he wouldn’t be the first player who never lived up to the hype. Over his minor league career he hit 29 HR in 882 AB. When he hit .323 at Single-A in ’08 (the only long sample size we had in the minors), it came courtesy of a .361 BABIP.

      There is just a ton of risk in selecting someone when we really don’t know. From what he’s shown, especially in the groundball rate, I am extremely skeptical.

  3. Jmax says:

    Jay Heyward is definatly a roll of the dice as you said. That is due to 3 factors 1)Potential 2)Injuries and 3)GB Rate. So the question you should ask yourself as a drafter is where do you pick him when you take those 3 factors into consideration.
    As the 31st OF on avg being taken and the 106th pick overall, do u want to roll the dice w your 9th pick??? You could snag a Markakis, Swisher, or Either. These guys are all going after J-Hey. Call me crazy but I’d even wait 19 more OF’s and pick Josh Willingham who has an ADP of the 50th OF drafted or 194th pick overall.
    In conclusion, I feel J-Hey has 2 strikes against him and I think someone would be crazy to role the dice on him so early.
    After yesterdays Heyward debate you really couldn’t have had a better time to post this. Well played Professor, well played…

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      Ha, it’s all about the timing 🙂

      We all know I agree with you. While I think waiting on Willingham may be a bit of a stretch, it’s hard to argue waiting a round or two and nabbing one of the “safer” options. The truth is, “safer” doesn’t necessarily mean worse.

  4. Bravos says:

    He’s lost 25 lbs and is in better shape than last year. Plus, he’s been working on his swing with chipper and other coaches, so I’d expect a good season

  5. Moloch says:

    Can a readjusted swing ameliorate his groundball tendencies? If so do we reasses his value after spring training?

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