Jason Heyward: Did Atlanta Braves Bench Him Too Often in 2011?

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Jason Heyward: Did Atlanta Braves Bench Him Too Often in 2011?
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Based on the comments of the AJC's David O'Brien on the Atlanta Baseball Talk Podcast, it seems there are some misunderstandings about those who thought Jason Heyward should not have been benched two or three games in a row at a time and those who don’t agree with those who thought he should be sent to the minors.

The views expressed by those who thought Heyward should have received more playing time were never about Heyward fandom.

It was never about messing Heyward up or scarring Heyward.

It was never about anything other than production. All these things were true from the reasonable people that thought Heyward shouldn’t be benched as often as he was and didn't think Heyward should be sent to the minors.

There may have been some fanatics out there who thought Heyward should play simply because they are Heyward fans.

Let me try to explain the thinking of those who didn’t agree with Heyward being benched so often and didn’t think he should have been sent to the minors.

These arguments and thoughts can’t be brushed aside by stating that people who think this way are just Heyward fans, that they are just worried about the Braves messing up Heyward or that they are ignoring performance. So these viewpoints are going to have to be addressed in more direct and appropriate ways.

First of all, no one denies that Heyward was one of the worst right fielders in baseball this season. No one would have had a problem with Heyward being benched as often as he was or if the Braves had sent him to Triple-A, if the Braves had better options.

The problem was with the options the Braves had. Based purely on performance, not hype and not fandom, Heyward was unfortunately the Braves' best outfielder this year. No one thinks that is a good thing.

Heyward had a 95 OPS+. Marin Prado had an 85 OPS+. Nate McLouth had an 85 OPS+. Eric Hinske, a poor defender, was at 96. Michael Bourn was at 87. Jordan Schafer, 73. Jose Constanza, even by setting the world on fire for a few weeks, finished at 100. The Braves had horrible outfield options.

So the argument for Heyward playing more has as much to do with the Braves' horrible options as anything else. Heyward’s performance and who he is as a player indicated he should have been one of the three options playing regularly. 

Perhaps some don’t see this. Perhaps some want to look at other aspects of performance besides how often a hitter is making outs and how many bases he gains.  But that is misguided because baseball offense is all about avoiding outs and gaining bases.

And unfortunately the Braves outfield didn’t do a good job with these things and unfortunately Jason Heyward, in a horrible season, was one of the three best options.  Heyward also tied with Alex Gonzalez for the team lead in defensive runs saved.

Regarding Jose Constanza and the hot hand fallacy, it is valid criticism of the team playing Constanza over Heyward against right-handed pitching.  The hot hand fallacy is like flipping a coin, the coin landing on heads 4 out of 5 times and assuming that it will keep landing on heads at that pace. 

By watching the games, we saw Constanza hitting a lot of weak, seeing-eye-type singles. We also knew that Constanza’s minor league performance indicated he was a Matt Young, Gregor Blanco type player. This has nothing to do with Heyward. This view of Constanza has everything to do with Constanza and Constanza alone.

Now guys like Matt Young and Gregor Blanco and Jose Constanza have value, even in the majors. No one had any issues with Constanza getting some playing time and starting some games. 

Even if there is no way to know if he was truly hot or if his hot streak would continue beyond his next plate appearances, I have no problem with assuming he truly was a hot hitter.  There was no harm in that.

The issue was not that Constanza was spelling Heyward. The issue was that he was playing over Heyward for two or three games in a row, against right-handed pitching, when Heyward was one of the three best outfield options.

Constanza could have spelled both Heyward and Prado, because Prado was a worse outfielder both offensively and defensively than Heyward throughout the season. That has nothing to do with whether anyone is a fan of Heyward, Prado or Constanza or hype or anything other than the Braves putting the best outfield on the field. 

Regarding Prado not being a star or a superstar or not having the kind of potential Heyward has, no one denies this. But if one is objectively trying to determine the best outfield options to play on any given day, ignoring which players have the best potential and which players are projected as stars, etc., there is no way around Heyward being better than Prado, certainly against right-handed pitching.

Saying Heyward was slightly better than Prado in 2011 is not good. No one pretends that it is. But unfortunately, the truth is that Heyward was better than Prado, at least against right-handed pitching.  Against right-handers, when Chipper was also in the lineup, the Braves didn’t put their best outfield on the field with Prado and Constanza at the corners.

Now, we can talk all day long about whether Heyward had a disappointing season, whether or not people are Heyward fans, Heyward’s potential, etc.

But, with regard to playing time, all we want to know is who were the Braves’ best outfield options. Completely ignoring fandom, completely ignoring hype or potential, and looking at performances from a purely objective perspective, Heyward was clearly the best or one of the best outfielders on the Braves in 2011. 

When a right-hander was in there, as long as he was healthy and on the roster, he generally should have been in the lineup.  The fact that he was the best or one of the best Braves outfielders shouldn’t make Heyward fans or fans of the Braves very happy, because he was still bad this year. 

If the Braves had even decent major league corner-outfielders, Heyward should have been in Triple-A playing everyday.  But if we are just being cold, objective and looking purely at performance, the Braves should have played Heyward more because he was simply one of their best options. 

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