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Entries in Jason Heyward (5)


Receding Stuff Makes Craig Kimbrel (More) Expendable

Craig Kimbrel got the short end of the monetary stick this week when the Atlanta Braves elected to sign Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward to contract extensions. Just six years into a 20-year local TV contract that has and will assuredly limit the team's cash assets for the foreseeable future, the organization has been put in a difficult financial situation this offseason, and these limitations have manifested through not being able to sign players to long-term deals, such as Kimbrel.

In a perfect world, the Braves would extend each of their three budding superstars. But we don't live in a perfect world, which meant Atlanta essentially had to decide whether Heyward or Kimbrel was more valuable for the organization moving forward (since Freeman seemed a near guarantee to get his extension after a career-best 5.4 bWAR 2013 campaign). With three consecutive 40-plus save seasons and a 1.48 ERA that ranks best among pitchers with 200 innings since 2011, one could certainly make the argument that Kimbrel deserved to get paid -- not Heyward, who owns an underwhelming career line of .259/.352/.443.

But for as dominant as Kimbrel has been since his rookie 2011 season, he actually regressed in several areas in 2013, which more than likely had a big say in Atlanta's decision not to extend him.

Craig Kimbrel
  AVG wOBA K/BB Zone% Miss% Chas% ClStk% InPl%
2012 .126 .170 8.29 52.9% 41.6% 34.1% 40.9% 21.0%
2013 .166 .222 4.90 50.5% 32.5% 30.7% 34.0% 28.7%


Across the board -- both in terms of opponents' weighted on-base average against him and in "miss-ability" of his offerings -- Kimbrel's stuff depreciated significantly. And while it seems silly to expect anyone to consistently perform at a level he did in 2012 (where he posted a 1.01 ERA, league-best 0.65 WHIP and 16.6 strikeouts per nine innings en route to a 3.3 bWAR), regressions such as these shouldn't go unnoticed. Of course, now the question becomes: Why did he take a step back last season?

Erractic Release Point

Kimbrel's Release Point Frequency, 2012


Kimbrel's Release Point Frequency, 2013


As a true two-pitch reliever (fastball and slider), deception is of the utmost importance for Kimbrel, whose gaudy strikeout numbers have been more of product of his ability to generate swings-and-misses (accounting for 89% of his career strikeouts), rather than called strikes (11%) in order to punch out batters. While wacky deliveries and varying arm slots can be deceptive, Kimbrel's traditional 3/4 arm slot makes vital the repetition of his release points between fastball and slider, as a more limited arsenal makes pitch recognition easier for batters if release points aren't consistent.

Surely enough, this was Kimbrel's downfall last season. Take a look at the first image shown above, which depicts the release point frequency of Kimbrel's offerings two seasons ago. Looks to be very consistent, no? Now take a gander at the bottom image, showing his release point frequency in 2013. While the red and yellow areas of his release points remain nearly identical as two seasons ago, his overall release points were much less defined.

Evidently, batters picked up on this lack of consistency and capitalized off it, increasing their in-play rate against his stuff by 7.7% over the last two seasons while generating a .222 wOBA against him, up from .170 in 2012. What's more, Kimbrel's inconsistent release point caused opponents to swing at roughly 5% less, chase at 4% less and swing-and-miss nearly 10% less in 2013 than two seasons ago.

For Kimbrel, deception is the name of the game. Last season, he didn't have it (as much), which is probably a main reason why Atlanta chose to extend Heyward over him.


Bill Shanks is Right, Even if he is Kind of a Jerk

Earlier this week, Bill Shanks wrote an article. Which is nothing new. Shanks is a columnist for The Macon Telegraph. He writes articles on a regular basis. It's his job. It's what he does. The article, Statheads see a different game" was in response to the response he got to this article, "Heyward following Francoeur’s career path" in which he dubs Jason Heyward the new Jeff Francoeur. Which is a really quick way to ruffle up the feathers of both Atlanta Braves fans and statistics-minded fans alike. 

Note #1: Do not ruffle the feathers of a statistics-minded fan. They are smart, snarky and generally lack any sort of brain-to-mouth filter

Note #2: The first "Note" can also be read as "disclaimer."

Of course, what I could do here is systematically take apart and tear down his tering down of "Statheads." It wouldn't be too difficult with hidden gems like this.

I did the unthinkable -- criticized a player adored by statheads, those who prefer to look at the game with a more analytical view instead of just enjoying the game of baseball.

Or this:

Statheads only respect people who watch the game the way they do, with a slide rule and more stats with acronyms than you can ever imagine. They even make up their own stats, mainly so they can fully make their argument about what they believe about a particular player.

Or the classic go to line for every anti-stats columnist:

Stats are fine, to a point. I like seeing what a player’s batting average is, how many home runs and RBI he has and can even stomach seeing what the on-base percentage is.

But I'm not going to do that.

Taking the high road

I prefer to take the high road in these types of situations. I am not going to resort to the kind of name calling that the close-minded Bill Shanks has already engaged in. In fact, I'm going to agree with him.

To a point.

One particular point. 

That point would be the one that he made about Heyward being nearly useless against left-handed pitching.

Because, he is.

Heyward currently has a career slash line against lefties of .223/.302/.363. Which is bad. His walk rate is four points lower against lefties than it is against righties (7.4% to 11.5%) this season. A similar difference resides in his career marks of 9.5% against lefties to 12% against righties. And his walk rate is what is championed within the sabermetric community.

But I ask of you this: What good is an above-average walk rate, when your OBP is 12 points below the league average?

Some say that Jason Heyward is unlucky. Pointing to his .256 BABIP as their proof. These same people may want to look at each of Heyward's four seasons seperately then, and come to the conclusion that he is simply inconsistent. Posting BABIP's of .335, .260, .319 and now .256. An inconsistent corner outfielder is not the kind of player that you build a winning franchise around. It is cherry-picking at it's best when you claim a player is unlucky but fail to mention that his swing rates are well above his rookie year numbers (2013 - 43.6%, 2010 - 38.6%).

Jason Heyward is still only 23 years old, and just because Jeff Francoeur was busting by then, doesn't mean that you give up on a young kid because recent history within the franchise says you should.

Manny Machado is only 20 years old. Who knows what he will be like in three years.

But Braves fans - and stats lovers - should look hard and long at the stats that they are using to build up Heyward. Because, if I were Heyward's manager, I would have started platooning him yesterday. 


Inside J-Hey's Bounceback Season

Jason Heyward burst into the majors in 2011, breaking car windshields with majestic home runs during spring training and then belting a three-run shot in his first regular-season at-bat in Atlanta. Just a few years removed from high school, Heyward played like a grizzled vet while posting the best offensive season by a 20-year-old (131 OPS+) since Ken Griffey Jr. back in 1990. Heyward, like The Kid, appeared primed for a strong of MVP-caliber seasons.

Instead, he crashed. Heyward dealt with a right shoulder injury for much of the season, hitting the DL from late May to mid-June. Pitchers pounded the 6-foot-5, 240 pound Heyward inside, and the long-limbed lefty struggled to adjust. His OPS+ plummeted to 93 -- more Jeff Francoeur than Griffey Jr.

Heyward bounced back in 2012, however, compiling a 117 OPS+ and crushing a career-best 27 homers with a healed shoulder. He put himself back in the discussion of the game's best young players by holding his own when pitchers tried to jam him. How did Heyward do it? Here's the inside story.

  • Heyward appeared passive to a fault against inside pitches in 2011, swinging just 36% of the time (the MLB average is about 45%). Maybe he was reluctant to swing because he knew he couldn't do damage against those pitches with a bum shoulder. He hit one homer against inside stuff and slugged a National League-worst .242. On average, the fly balls that Heyward hit against inside pitches traveled all of 199 feet -- about 45 feet under the big league average for left-handed hitters.
  • Heyward let 'er rip against inside pitches in 2012, swinging 46% of the time that pitchers tried to bust him in on the hands. He hit seven homers on inside stuff and slugged .411, slightly above the .399 average for lefty batters. His average fly ball distance on inside pitches climbed to 247 feet.

Still just 23, Heyward sometimes gets lost amid all the well-deserved Bryce Harper and Mike Trout hoopla. But if he stays healthy in 2013, J-Hey may join the 30 homer, 20 stolen base club -- an exclusive group that included just Trout, Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun last season. Pitchers and parking lot attendants, you've been warned -- Heyward could be in for an MVP-type year.

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