The Cubs signed outfielder Jason Heyward to an 8 year, $184 million contract last week. The contract contains two opt out clauses after year 3 and year 4, so if Heyward can continue to put up 5-6 WAR seasons, he could easily opt out and get a bigger deal.
Heyward is coming off a season where he hit .293-.359-.439 with 13 home runs, 79 runs scored, 60 RBI and 23 stolen bases in 26 attempts in 610 plate appearances. He is known as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game, and the combination of his performance at the plate, in the field and on the bases produced a 6.0 WAR last season, making him one of the more valuable players in the game.
But, for fantasy owners, he has been a bit of a disappointment, at least for this fantasy owner. He's been a solid hitter throughout his career, as he adds value in the batting average and stolen base categories, but he has disappointed in the power categories. After his breakout 2012 season, where he hit .269-.335-.479 with 27 home runs, 93 runs scored, 82 RBI and 21 stolen bases, many, including me, felt this is the production we can expect going forward.
Well, that wasn't to be. We may look back at 2012 as his career year. That is kind of surprising when you consider that Heyward stands 6'5" and weights 245 pounds. Here is what his year to year home run, runs scored and RBI breakdown looks like:
2010: 18 HR, 83 R, 72 RBI
2011: 14 HR, 50 R, 42 RBI
2012: 27 HR, 93 R, 82 RBI
2013: 14 HR, 67 R, 48 RBI
2014: 11 HR, 74 R, 58 RBI
2015: 13 HR, 79 R, 60 RBI
Look at those stats closely. Other than his rookie season in 2010 and his breakout 2012 season, Heyward has never hit more than 14 home runs, scored more than 79 runs or driven in more than 60 runs. Wow.
All that said, there is still a chance he can become the next 20 home run, 30 stolen base hitter.
Well, first off he needs to stop hitting so many ground balls. Last season, he hit 57% of his batted balls on the ground, and has never hit fewer than 43% of his batted balls on the ground. Not good for a power hitter.
Secondly, he needs to get more left in his swing. Ever since his shoulder injury a few years ago, Heyward has lost his power. But, hitters tweak with their swings and batting stances constantly, so working on his swing to add more loft will be a nice step.
Third, he is moving out of Busch Stadium and into Wrigley Field, and the 2015 ball park factors tell me that Busch depressed home runs by about 14% last season, while Wrigley was 28% above league average in home runs allowed, so adding loft to his swing and the move from Busch to Wrigley could be the necessary changes he needs to tap into the power we saw from him in 2012.
Heyward has stolen 20+ bases in three of the last four seasons, and moves from a team that did not run all that much, and wasn't very successful when doing so, which may have limited some of his opportunities, to the Cubs managed by Joe Maddon. Maddon likes to run and be aggressive on the base paths, so Heyward could run more in 2016. Add in the possibility that he could be the Cubs lead off hitter, and there is a chance he could reach 30 stolen bases in 2016.
Moving to Wrigley and playing for Maddon had a positive influence on the season that Dexter Fowler had in 2015, as Fowler put up career year stats in 2015, slugging 17 home runs and stealing 20 bases. Prior to 2015, Fowler's career best home run total was 13 in 2012. So, we could see similar improvement in Heyward in 2016.
Will I count on him putting up a 20-30 season? No. But it is possible. I think he can put up a 17-18 home run season with 26-28 stolen bases next year. Add in more runs scored and a few more RBI and we could have a solid 2nd-3rd pick in 2016 drafts.
Let's hear your thoughts in the comments section below.