Atlanta Braves: Is There Something Wrong with Jason Heyward?

Shaun Payne@@paynedshaunContributor IIApril 21, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 10: Jason Heyward #22 of the Atlanta Braves bats against the Philadelphia Phillies at Turner Field on April 10, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. The Phillies won 3-0. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

What's wrong with Jason Heyward?  He hasn't reached base in his last four games.  Wednesday night against the Dodgers he struck out three times.  However, the short answer is that nothing's wrong.

Part of the problem is our perspective.  We are only 20 games into the 2011 season.  Heyward has 75 plate appearances so far.  He'll likely get over 600 plate appearances when the 2011 season is all said and done. 

We tend to notice a slump that lasts just a few games when all we have to work with are a few games.  If a slump happens in the middle of the season, a player's stats don't change as much and we hardly notice.  This is because a few-game slump hardly makes a dent in the numbers at mid-season or later in the season like it does early in a season.

To give you some perspective, Heyward's slash stats looked pretty good even after an 0-for-4 with no walks against the Dodgers on April 18th.  Sure Heyward's batting average wasn't impressive (.222) but his on-base percentage (.354) and slugging percentage (.500) were just fine.  After an 0-for-5 with no walks the next night, his on-base dropped to .329 and his slugging dropped to .458.  That's when everyone started to notice.

But worse players have gone four consecutive games without reaching base.  Again, if this happens with more games under Heyward's belt, his season stats don't drastically change, and no one really notices.  We'd be talking about a bad series, not a slump. 

So why, besides a small sample of data, is Heyward getting the attention for being in a slump when the Dodgers series is the first time all season he's failed to reach base in consecutive games, and when four of the Braves' regulars have a worse OPS+?

Well, part of the problem is that Heyward's hit-less, walk-less streak is a recent streak of futility.  It's easy to remember the most recent. 

Also, if he's failed to reach base the last four games, we can say he's currently in a slump.  We don't simply say that he was in a slump his last four games.  We view it as he is in as slump, not he was in a slump.  Even though we know full well that a player with his talent could hit a couple of homers, draw a couple of walks and get a hit tomorrow. 

Another problem is that Heyward is an awesome talent so his standards are higher than most other players.  The fact that Alex Gonzalez and Nate McLouth have worse overall 2011 numbers isn't such a big deal because those players are supposed to be mediocre hitters, at best.  Heyward isn't supposed to be this bad.  So if his stats fall to the mediocre range, even if it's due to just a few hit-less and walk-less games and a small sample, it's going to stick out like a sore thumb. 

There is the perception that, although they have worse stats than Heyward for the 2011 season, McLouth, Uggla and Gonzalez have broken out of any slumps they were in earlier this season. 

All is well with those players but not Heyward.  This is simply ludicrous.  Not that those players are horrible and destined to be bad hitters all season.  But Heyward is more talented than all three. 

Perhaps the biggest reason Heyward is getting more attention for his struggles than some of his teammates is the batting order topic.  A lot of writers (including yours truly) weighed in on Heyward hitting as low as sixth in the order. 

They argued that although batting order doesn't make a huge difference, a hitter like Heyward shouldn't be hitting that low.  There were those who thought Heyward should remain in one of the three middle spots in the batting order because they view him as a run producer (whatever that means). 

So Heyward moves to the second spot on April 17th, stops hitting and walking on April 18th.  That allows the fans who want Heyward in the middle of the order to gloat and make this connection between Heyward changing spots in the order and his slump.  Never mind that there is no evidence of a connection with the change in batting-order position and his hit-less and walk-less games. 

How quickly we forget that Heyward hit second for most of last season and put together one of the greatest rookie seasons in recent memory, maybe one of the best of all time.   

I have no problem with pointing out that he's hit-less and walk-less in his last 14 plate appearances.  After all, that's just fact. 

But to act as if a player like Jason Heyward should never go through this kind of a skid or to worry that he is going to have a down year is simply misguided and senseless at this point.