Comments on yesterday's blog sparked many thoughts, so an analysis of how good or bad Jason Heyward is will be performed along with some case studies to see if things may get back on the right track sooner rather than later.
First, what earned Heyward the hype of the #1 prospect in all of baseball in 2009 had a lot to do with his OPS ability. He is above average but not great in the categories of defense, throwing arm, and hitting for power. What impressed scouts was his knowledge of the strike zone, ability to hit to all fields, and overall abilities as a hitter. In 240 career minor league games and 882 at bats, Heyward posted a line of .317/29/125/.897. So less than 30 HRs in about a season and a half of big league ball, but that .897 is a top 20 MLB mark year in and year out. The progression of that OPS number to the major league level earned Heyard his accolades.
Then, in 2010, Heyward goes out from Day 1 and impresses, going .277/18/72/.849 and everyone agrees that the sky is the limit for good ole Jason. Well, those numbers dipped in an injury plagued 2011 with a line of .227/14/42/.708 and to .233/6/23/.739 so far in 2012. An OPS in the high 800's represents a season like Mike Stanton/Justin Upton in 2011, one in the low 700's is more like Kelly Johnson - not what you want out of your right fielder.
There have been several reasons for Heyward's demise, one of which was brought up by Rob in yesterday's blog about having a "sophomore slump." Those do exist in the big leagues, mostly due to advanced scouting reports and pitchers gaining a better understanding on how to pitch you. There has also been some mental issues which are expected with someone who hasn't experienced failure in this game to the level Heyward did in 2011 and this year. Also, there have been nagging injuries and, what I think has led to his drop in production, an increased number of bad strikeouts.
In Heyward's minor league career, he struck out 13.7% of the time he came to the plate and walked 10.4% of the time. In his rookie season, the strikeout percentage jumped to 20.5% but the walk percentage went up as well to 14.6%. A lot of strikeouts, but also quite a bit of walks.
Last year, the strikeout number was about the same at 20.4%, but the walk percentage dropped to 11.1%. This year, the strikeout percentage has gone up again to 25.3% and the walk percentage has remained the same at 11.1%.
So, while Heyward is still striking out a lot, his walks are down from his impressive rookie campaign. A lot of those at bats where in the minor leagues and in his rookie season were walks have turned into Jason waving at balls out of the strike zone for K's.
And while his OPS numbers would be increased north of .750 if this walk rate had stayed the same, the fact that the strikeouts continue to go up raises a huge concern. If Heyward isn't a .300 hitter or a 30 HR guy, he can't be a huge strikeout guy.
I still think a healthy Heyward will be productive, as Beez pointed out, he is still 22 and could be playing his 1st year of A ball out of college.
Lets take a quick look at some other young outfielders and how they have progressed their 1st few years when compared to Heyward.
2005 - .300/14/45/.884
2006 - .260/29/103/.742
2007 - .293/19/105/.782
2008 - .239/11/71/.653
2009 - .280/15/76/.732
2010 - .249/13/65/.683
2011 - .285/20/87/.805
Started hot, cooled down a bit, went ice cold, but now is productive again.
2007 - .300/24/82/.894
2008 - .273/9/67/.783
2009 - .241/11/65/.686
2010 - .237/18/62//745
2011 - .243/23/81/.759
Also up and down, but has remained (outside of 09) a solid OPS guy despite his low averages the last 3 years.
1998 - .288/18/89/.844
1999 - .265/28/86/.840
2000 - .279/27/104/.845
2001 - 264/11/72/.760
2002 - .251/19/64/.781
Entered 2003 at age 26 and played 201 more career games before retiring
Some fast starts, hiccups, and in some cases it comes back and in others it just putters along or goes in the tank completely. Having the expectation of being the #1 rated prospect had fans looking for another Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, or Albert Pujols. Fact is, there aren't many players like that out there, and being a top prospect doesn't guarantee anything, just ask Andy Marte.
I see Heyward getting better at hitting lefties and gaining more confidence at the plate the remainder of this season. I think in his prime he is a .275/25/100/.850 guy and his development will require patience from the fan base.
Remember, he is only 22.