Jason Heyward: Evaluating Outfielder’s 2014 Fantasy Value

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t shake a stick in this country without hitting a projection system that totally whiffed on Jason Heyward’s 2013 season.

Go ahead, try.

No, harder.


Hit them.

Get out of the way and give me that stick! You have the contact rate of a Houston Astro.

Crackerjacks certainly whiffed hard when it came to Jason Heyward. Please swallow any fluids or food stuffs in your mouths before you look at these next stats.

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What went wrong?

Clearly, Heyward’s 2013 season felt a little bit below his pay grade, so went wrong?  Well, injuries for one. But while it seems like the word ‘injury’ is becoming closely associated with Heyward, not all injuries are created equal. First of all, the guy had an emergency appendectomy, which is obviously not a recurring issue. Second, his jaw was broken when he took a fastball to his face! Ooooo wheeee! What’s up wit dat?

The injuries I’m more concerned about are his shoulder and hamstring issues. His shoulder issue was an injury he struggled with in 2011, although Chipper Jones told him he needed to man up. When a shoulder issue is recurring or it causes unintentional mechanical adjustments at the plate, it’s trouble.

Another thing that went wrong for Heyward is that he got off to a terrible start to 2013. His April slump was so horrific it should have a pair of flesh epaulets named after it. There is nothing magical about a month. It’s an arbitrary 30 day period to cherry pick stats, but Heyward dug quite a hole for himself with this line:

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What does it mean for his 2014 fantasy value?

Rather than continue to try and obscure my insecurities around Jason Heyward with another bad Houston Astros joke or link to another World of Warcraft drop, I’ll just admit that I’m really unsure of what 2014 holds for his fantasy value. While I typically do a couple hours of research for a player profile like this, I’m several hours in and I can’t find a darned thing that is definitive or clearly predictive in his numbers. Heyward has been more all over the map than Dora the Explorer.

I’ve poured through Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and even the plucky little guy, Baseball Cube. While I found a ton of data, I can’t pull any sort of narrative out of it. I’ll simply share 5 “hunches” regarding Jason Heyward in 2014, and I invite you to pull from it anything you might find useful.

Hunch 1: Jason Heyward will never steal as many bases as fantasy analysts first expected. Hamstring injuries aside, manager Freddie Gonzalez doesn’t seem eager to run with all the strikeout heavy, but home run hitting batters in the Atlanta Braves lineup.

And while Heyward had 21 steals in 2012, his success rate wasn’t that good, and his 2 steals versus 4 times caught in 2013 was abysmal. While projecting stolen base totals is never super accurate, my hunch is that 21 was the best we’ll ever see from Heyward and that he won’t approach more than 12-15 in 2014.

Hunch 2: Jason Heyward will continue to be an OBP machine. Sure it’s a limited sample, but Heyward’s strikeout rate was down to 16% in 2014 after spiking to over 23% in 2012. Expect it to sit around 20% in 2014 and to be coupled with around an 11% walk rate.

That’s actually very nice plate discipline for such a young player and shows that Heyward hitting very high in the lineup is not a bad idea. He’ll continue to be good in OBP leagues and also look for him to have a great run total in 2014.

Hunch 3: His recurring shoulder issue coupled with his youth have monkeyed with his swing. His batted ball profile is all over the place. I intentionally mentioned youth because he’s got all the time in the world to rediscover his groove and we saw a glimpse if it in 2013.

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Heyward actually had a line drive percentage of 21.4% in 2013, which was a career high. Unfortunately, he also had an infield fly ball percentage of 16.7%, which is awful. If he can turn just a few of those pop ups into line drives or long fly balls he’ll get himself back on track.

It’s odd but Heyward is developing a weird every other year pattern where his typical 8% pop up rate turns into a 16+% pop up rate. If you believe in astrology or weird every other year patterns, then Heyward is due for a nice season in terms of hitting solid line drives and fly balls.

Hunch 4: Heyward will benefit from an Atlanta Braves offense that could be overall improved in 2014. I wish there was an adjective even more descriptive than inconsistent because that’ would be the word I’d use for the Atlanta Braves’ offense in 2013.

We don’t need to go into the futility of B.J. Upton as there is no reason for us to sob uncontrollably. But Justin Upton was streaky, as was Evan Gattis. The Braves also monkeyed around with the lineup and had huge injury issues. All in all, there’s at least a puncher’s chance that improved stability and and consistent out of the lineup overall can benefit Heyward as he looks to right the ship in 2014.

Hunch 5: His home run per fly ball percentage will increase in 2014. Heyward has also developed a weird pattern of HR/FB rates fluctuating every other season between 16% and 13%. For heaven’s sake, he’s a bearded man, which means he’s much too strong a guy for only 13% on his fly balls to leave as home runs. I expect that the number will return to 16% in 2014 and stay above there throughout his career. What this means is that we’ll see more homers out of Heyward to the tune of 22-25 in 2014.

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*We want our projections to be even better in 2014. We’re partnering with Tanner Bell of Smart Fantasy Baseball to crunch even deeper, so that we might provide the most accurate projections possible for 2014. Look for our full Crackerjack projections in our 2014 Draft Kit coming in February.