John Perrotto of the scholarly Baseball Prospectus offers a nice take on Jason Heyward, who’s having kind of a nice rookie season. (Our word of the day: Understatement.) And it’s not just the by-now-standard “oh-what-a-great-talent/mature-young-man” gushing. It’s a nuanced look at just why Jason Heyward is Jason Heyward.
I quote at length for two reasons: Because Perrotto’s article is informative, and because BP is a pay site. (Though I must note that four of the five included paragraphs have been made available for free.) And now, without further ado:
Anytime a player comes to the major leagues and has immediate success, he is always met with this response: How is he going to do once the league adjusts to him? Braves rookie right fielder Jason Heyward has answered that question in an emphatic and positive way. The 20-year-old made one of more memorable major-league debuts in recent years when he hit a long three-run home run in his first career plate appearance as the Braves routed the Cubs 16-5 on Opening Day at Turner Field. Heyward went on to hit .316/.409/.692 in his first 10 games before a .103/.297/.207 slide in the next 10 games dropped his triple-slash line down to .224/.358/.448.
However, it is safe to say that Heyward has adjusted back. He has hit .359/.462/.719 in his last 20 games to get his season lineup to .290/.409/.580. Now it leaves one to ponder if big-league pitchers will ever find a way to get Heyward out …
When Heyward went into his brief slump, [manager Bobby] Cox and Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton offered only a small piece of advice to their phenom. They told Heyward to be more aggressive early in the count and consider swinging at more first pitches.
Normally, young hitters never have to be told to swing at pitches as they go to the plate hacking. Heyward, though, was intentionally taking extra pitches in order to gauge the stuff of various pitchers around the league as he was facing almost all of them for the first time …
Heyward is 2-for-6 with a double and a home run when he has connected on the first pitch and has also reached on an error. When ahead in the count, he has put up a line of .340/.556/.660 while batting .217/.250/.391 when behind in the count.
And here we pause to reflect: Didn’t the Braves have another young right fielder who hit a home run in his first major-league game and had similar immediate success? And where would Jeff Francoeur be today had he been able to adjust to pitchers? The guess: He probably wouldn’t be playing for the New York Mets, and he surely wouldn’t be hitting .211 in his sixth big-league season.