2013 Fantasy Baseball: Buy Low on Jason Heyward
On the heels of the first 20/20 season of his career — 27 homers, 21 swipes to be exact — and at the ripe age of 23, Jason Heyward became a prime target for fantasy baseballers entering the twenty-thirteen season. But it wasn’t just the lanky lefty’s solo potential that left fantasy owners reaching into the second or third-round of their fantasy drafts to acquire his services, it was the idea of pairing the outfielder with newcomers B.J. and Justin Upton in a star-studded lineup that made his upside that much more appealing.
Those with shares of the former 2007 first-rounder developed some concerns through 58 April at-bats — as any owner of a player batting .121 with two long balls (four total extra-base hits) and five runs batted in rightfully should — but, were Heyward’s struggles indicative of a slump, or, potentially derived from an unknown injury?
I’m not exactly sure, but Heyward was complaining about “stomach fires and acute pain in his right side” prior to learning about the need for an emergency appendectomy, so maybe that had more to do with his struggles at the plate than a big-league slump? I mean, it has to be difficult hitting the ball with any authority if a player is experiencing pain in the oblique area — which could be one of the possible explanations for his .138 ISO in the month of April.
At any rate, Heyward is back on the field for the Braves after missing close to a month recovering from the surgery. And although we see some surface signs of a rebound, his underlying numbers indicate he’s going to continue to improve — and in fact — should be a “buy low” candidate to target in your fantasy baseball leagues.
Heyward’s plate discipline looks to be in good shape. He’s taking more walks (12.9% BB%) and striking out less (17.2% K%) than he has in his career — 11.6% BB% and 21.3% K% respectively — likely due to the fact that he’s getting less pitches to see in the zone (40.4% Zone%) and is chasing for those outside of the zone less (25.3% O-Swing%) than he has in the past. And when Heyward commits to a pitch, he’s making contact 77% of the time — which is right in-line with his career 77.1% Contact% — and missing the ball less (8.9% SwStr%) versus his career 9.2% SwStr%. So it’s not the plate discipline, is it poor contact?
Despite the injury/soreness in the oblique area stemming from the appendix, Heyward looks to be making fairly decent contact through 116 at-bats. He’s punching line drives at a 19.7% clip with an average distance of 150.61 feet, and while the LD% is up a tick from 2012’s 19.2%, the average distance is down about nine feet from 159 feet last season. And he’s hitting more fly balls this season (42% FB%) than he did in ‘12 (37% FB%), but they don’t have the legs either — going about six feet shorter than they did in twenty-twelve’s campaign (284 feet down from 290). The lefty is hitting fewer balls into the stands as well, posting just over a 6% HR/FB%, down from a career 15.3% HR/FB%, despite the spike in fly balls off his bat. But is the lack of homers due to the dip in distance or more of a stroke of bad luck considering the pitcher’s parks he’s been playing in to start the season?
All of the previous leads me to believe it’s some really, really bad luck. Aside from the HR/FB% sinking, Heyward is hitting just .176 on balls in play — down from a career .300 BABIP. He isn’t Starling Marte fast (8.2 Spd), but JHey sports a career 5.3 speed score telling us he should be able to beat out a few more balls hit into the dirt going forward. The ball off of the bat is bound to find more holes in the defense –and to a lesser extent, the stands too.
In conclusion, bad luck — and a bad appendix — appear to be at the root of Heyward’s rough start. And all of this “bad luck” reeks of rebound. Go back to your league and offer to take the Brave off his owner’s hands. While he isn’t a .300, 25/25 candidate, Heyward could realistically finish the season batting .265 with 20 moonshots and 12 swipes.