The Chicago Cubs had a lot of things go their way in 2016, but the first-year of Jason Heyward‘s eight-year, $184 million contract was not one of them.
While Heyward was able to win a Gold Glove Award for his outstanding defense in right field, he struggled majorly at the plate. Across 592 regular season appearances, Heyward batted .230/.306/.325 with 7 home runs, 49 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases, giving him an oWAR of -0.3.
Heyward’s struggles would only get worse in the playoffs, but as Heyward noted at the Cubs’ annual fan fest on Friday that it is hard to change things in-season.
“It’s easier said than done trying to do it in season,” Heyward said. “The offseason allows you to slow things down and focus on all the little things.”
In the off-season, Heyward is now working side-by-side with Cubs hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske to bring back the swing that brought him success during his five-year tenure with the Atlanta Braves and his one-year stay with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs and Heyward are specifically looking at the 2012 season to help Heyward repair his swing, which was one of his better offensive seasons. He belted a career-high 27 homers that season, while also hitting home another career-high 82 batters.
“He’s trying to mirror the swing he had then,” Mallee said. “Right now the path is not the same it was then. It’s not making a change. It’s getting him back to who he was.”
An anonymous scout told the Chicago Tribune that the changes Heyward has made so far this season working out in Arizona could potentially raise his batting average by 20 to 30 points, citing that Heyward’s changes should allow him to hit the ball harder.
Heyward’s hard hit rate of 26.4% was the lowest rate of his career last season, while his soft hit rate of 27% was the second-lowest rate. For comparison, his hard hit rate in 2012 was 34.5%, while the soft hit rate was 16.7%.
It’s clear that the Cubs still are very confident that Heyward can be apart of the future in Chicago, as the team traded away outfielder Jorge Soler this off-season and allowed Dexter Fowler to sign with National League Central rival St. Louis.
Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have Heyward batting .257/.335/.390 with 12 homers, 60 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases in 592 2017 plate appearances.
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