Everyone wants to believe that Jason Heyward is going to be a major star. The question is, does his tendency to consistently drive the ball into the ground (54.6% groundball rate over his first two seasons) limit his potential upside? Let’s take a look at a few numbers to help us make that determination.
Over the past three years there have been 65 seasons by players qualifying for the batting title posting a groundball rate of 50% or higher (the highest being Derek Jeter, at 65.7% in 2010). Obviously a lot of these players are going to be among the best speed options in the league, like Ichiro Suzuki or Michael Bourn. The fact that Heyward’s name is in a discussion with them alone should make us all nervous. While he has some speed, that’s certainly not his game. If that’s the company he is going to keep, he is destined to be a disappointment.
Obviously it should go without saying that, if you pound the ball into the ground you aren’t going to hit many home runs. Here’s the breakdown of what those 65 seasons produced:
- Less than 10 HR = 42
- 10+ Home Runs = 23
- 15+ Home Runs = 9
- 20+ Home Runs = 4
Obviously there is an exception to any rule, but over 66% of the time, a player who posts a groundball rate of at least 50% will hit less than 10 HR. To make matters worse, 80% of the time they'll hit less than 15 HR.
What about the four seasons where the player hit at least 20 HR? Three of them were from Hunter Pence and the other was Hanley Ramirez.
While we would like to think that Heyward could develop into a similar player to Pence, that would be his upside, and even then only if everything falls into place. That's not likely. Pence is going to hit in the middle of a potent lineup for the Phillies, but can we say that for certain with Heyward?
We know that Brian McCann and Dan Uggla are going to be there. Chipper Jones could open the year hitting third, but sooner or later he will likely give way to a younger player. People may want to think that it’ll be Heyward, but Freddie Freeman has just as good an opportunity. In fact, having hit .282 with 21 HR in ’11, Freeman could actually be more likely.
If Heyward is hitting sixth or seventh and driving the ball into the ground how much value could he possibly have? Throw in that he’s proven to be an injury risk and there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical.
Obviously things aren’t all bad. If he can reduce the groundball rate and start hitting the ball with more authority (13.1% line drive rate in ’11) things would look better. He also should be able to improve on his BABIP (.260). Of course, there are a lot of what if's and what could's at play here.
He’s currently the 31st outfielder coming off the board (ADP of 106.28 according to Mock Draft Central). On the other hand I have him ranked 51st among outfielders. In my opinion everything needs to go perfectly for him to produce big numbers. That’s a risky proposition. Does he have the potential? Absolutely, as we can all see the talent. However, until he actually displays it I am going to remain skeptical in yearly formats.
What are your thoughts on Heyward? Do you think he will reach his potential in 2012? Why or why not?
Make sure to check out all of our 2012 rankings: