Jason Heyward Is Overrated
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently wrote of a scout telling him that “They (the Cardinals) will rue the day they made that trade.” of Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins for Jason Heyward and Jordan Walden. Those comments were issued after Heyward’s poor start to the season hitting just .248/.301/.352 after 28 games although he’s picked it up of late going 7 for 15 earlier in the week during the Cubs series. However I found the scout’s comments interesting and I too have often thought of the right fielder as one that is overrated.
A colleague of mine argued that Heyward’s high point in his career thus far came from his very first at-bat when he took Carlos Zambrano deep. He was supposed to break out each year since his rookie season and yet has never surpassed the numbers he put up in that rookie year. You’d expect a rookie season not to be the best year in one’s career yet that’s what we have here with Heyward so far. He surely can’t be worth a potential $18-20 million a year once he hits free agency, can he?
Apparently though CJ Nitkowski of Fox Sports thinks $23-25 million a year is more like it citing his young age (26) when he becomes a free agent this offseason. Also Dave Cameron of Fangraphs thinks landing a 9 year/$200 million contract is possible by factoring in things like inflation. That’s crazy talk, right? I’d surely believe so. Consider the following:
Below is an image (via Baseball-Reference) showing Heyward’s similarity scores to similar players through his age 24 season.
Interestingly, you see Barry Bonds on this list, but we all know what happened when he turned 30. Jeff Francoeur is on there too but we all know that he wasn’t as good after his first three years with Atlanta.
Now below is another image showing his similarity score to other players for their career.
You see guys like Matt Joyce and Will Venable and Kevin Mench – players that are/were useful but were hardly difference makers. And yet Heyward’s WAR stands out amongst this list. Why? Simply put, his defense. His WAR of 6.2 last season was his best since his rookie year (6.4), which denotes a really good player but it was also largely driven by his defense (he only slugged .384 as a RF!). His 24.2 UZR and 24.1 UZR in 2012 and 2014, respectively ranked among the best amongst outfielders in MLB in those years and have been his best defensive seasons. How about those other years though? Just 5.2, 9.1, and 12.5 UZR.
Heyward’s .350 career OBP is pretty decent but it’s even worse if you take out his rookie season where he had a .393 OBP. If I only consider his last four years including 2015 stats as of Thursday, his OBP is only .339, which is still above average but hardly great. Furthermore, his career 112 OPS+ is clearly an above average player, but it is not superstar level nor is it All-Star level and therefore earning the amount of money being talked about makes it sound asinine.
Back in March, MLBTR listed Heyward second on their 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings (yet revised that ranking and put him down two spots in their April rankings) citing his ability to earn a massive payday at a very young age for a free agent. To think that a player like Heyward who has yet to put anything together resembling consistency could earn a contract worth $180-200 million or more seems preposterous. Instead of ruing the Cardinals for acquiring Heyward in the first place, I’d gravely rue any team that signs him to that ridiculous sum.
Thank you to Wayne Cavadi for contributing to this post.