There are times that we tend to look at every single little thing during the season as if it could be ‘the thing’ that we hoped we’d never see. Whether it’s a blown save by your superstar closer, a rough patch during the middle of the season, or your highest paid player continuing to vastly underperform. There are always those ‘things.’
Today’s ‘thing’ is the last item we mentioned and one that has people wondering, mostly out loud, whether Jason Heyward’s bat will ever come around this season. That question has prompted Joe Maddon to give Jason four straight games off (ESPN). It’s also prompting a legion of fans to wonder why on earth Heyward can’t get his bat going this year.
There’s absolutely no doubting that Heyward is a defensive dynamo. He has the third highest Def (a stat that measures a players defensive value relative to league average – FanGraphs) of all major league outfielders at 13.6. And he holds a 1.2 fWAR despite his awful offensive numbers. How awful? He holds a -16.7 Off rating. That’s the worst of all major league outfielders.
There are a litany of statistics we could use to break down how poorly Jason has hit the ball this season. It’s truly mind-rattling when you head over to FanGraphs to look at the numbers. There’s the fact that he’s batting only .224 against right-handed pitchers this season, compared to .301 in 2015 and .304 in 2014. To me, that’s the most unexpected stat there is. It’s almost as if he’s just not seeing the ball well. Is there a team optometrist?
Or maybe it’s the pressure of certain situations. When sorting through all the numbers, the biggest drop I can see lies in Jason’s RE24. Not a stat you hear referenced often but it’s all about situational hitting. It’s a measure of how good or bad a player is at creating runs in certain situations (FanGraphs). League average is set to zero. Jason’s RE24 this season is -12.33. The last four seasons he had an RE24 of 24.57, 11.82, 19.93, 18.71, respectively.
In situations where Jason is up to bat he’s cost the Cubs 12.33 runs this year when compared to how an average hitter would be expected to perform under the same circumstances. As you can guess, Jason’s wRAA (weighted runs above average – a situational neutral measure of a players ability to contribute runs to the team) is -15.7, by far the lowest of his career.
It’s anyone’s guess what is happening to cause Jason’s offensive performance to be so off this year when compared to the rest of his career. It’s truly baffling. The upside, of course, is that he’s one of best outfielders in the game defensively. On a team that has the best offense in baseball, which includes Jason Heyward’s stats, a defensive wizard will most certainly serve the Cubs well in the playoffs. The question becomes whether Jason’s superior defense will be enough to overcome his lacking offensive production.