Pass on Jason Heyward, Draft Austin Jackson?! It May Seem Crazy, But It’s True…

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Jason Heyward carries a big name for fantasy owners, though it’s more centered on the perception of upside as opposed to actual production.  After all he owns a career .262 average, only once has hit more than 18 HR in a season (in 2012) and has more seasons of 11 SB or fewer (three) than 20+ (two).  So the question is, when do we give up on him?  Better yet, why do we draft him so highly?

Just look at his average ADP, compared to Austin Jackson’s:

  • Jason Heyward – 84.0
  • Austin Jackson – 251.3

Would it surprise you to learn that, despite the 170 pick difference the two players are actually extremely similar?  Let’s take a look:

Jason Heyward
We referenced Heyward’s career numbers in the opening, and he’s been a disappointing option.  While he has seemingly corrected the issue of consistently driving the ball into the ground (45.5% in ’14, 48.2% for his career), he struggled last season with not producing a significant line drive rate (18.9%) and popping the ball up (11.2%).  He also has shown a diminishing distance on non-groundballs:

  • 2010 – 280.363
  • 2011 – 282.573
  • 2012 – 275.501
  • 2013 – 266.162
  • 2014 – 252.738

That’s definitely a discouraging trend, making it impossible to think that he’s suddenly going to return to the 20+ HR range (especially since he’s only done it once).  Throw in the move to Busch Stadium, which yielded just 1.38 HR/game in ’14 (Turner Field was at 1.59) and the power production looks even bleaker.  Even if the rebounds, can we really expect more than 14-17?

There’s also the potential to struggle against southpaws, as he did in ’14:

  • vs. RHP – .304/.384/.436
  • vs. LHP – .169/.252/.225

While that is dramatic, he owns a career slash against southpaws of .221/.301/.349.  Could a platoon be in his future?  How about the potential to hit either second (hurting his runs scored) or towards the bottom of the lineup (with Matt Carpenter & Kolten Wong filling the top)?  That’ll hurt him as well, further clouding his upside.

Austin Jackson
He was dealt to Seattle last season, where he has an improved lineup behind him now (thanks to the addition of Nelson Cruz) and will hit atop the order.  That should mean ample runs scored, with 80+ a given and 90+ a fair expectation.

He also has shown similar power to Heyward over the past few seasons, with 10, 16 and 12 from 2011-2013.  Yes he struggled there last season (4 HR), but his average distance on non-groundballs of 262.290 indicates a bit more.  We aren’t expecting a huge season, but just getting back into the 10-13 range puts him close enough to Heyward.

Why?  He offers more speed and showed it last season after the trade.  He swiped 11 bases in 13 attempts in 54 games for the Mariners, after attempting 13 in 100 games for the Tigers prior to the deal.  More opportunities should continue to yield better results (20+ is a given).

With power in the ballpark, more runs, more SB and significant average potential (.274 for his career, 23.7% career line drive rate) what exactly is there not to like?  Sure there are more strikeouts (23.5% for his career) and less RBI potential, but the other numbers are too close.

Conclusion
The fact that these two are being selected 170 spots apart makes it an interesting comparison, but it’s hard not to see them as similar players as of right now.  The real takeaway is that the name appeal of Heyward is driving up his cost, but there are significantly better uses of that early of a pick.  Don’t make the mistake of overdrafting him, as you’d be better served waiting for someone like Jackson and filling another hole early.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Heat Maps, ESPN, Fantasy Pros

Make sure to check out all of our early 2015 rankings:

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