Turning on Fastballs Has Jason Heyward Looking Like His Former Self at the Plate

Jason Heyward is currently batting .277 with a .349 wOBA and 120 wRC+, all of which easily surpass his best numbers as a Cub. The improvement has come because he’s finally hitting the pitch that used to beat him: The fastball.

Remember when Heyward smacked a homer off of Jake Arrieta in the 2015 NLDS? I do. Heyward took a mid-90’s tailing fastball on the outside portion of the plate deep to Wrigley’s left field bleachers. When the Cubs signed him that winter, I couldn’t stop thinking about that homer. I thought the eventual World Series champion Cubs were signing a hitter who could take fastballs to all parts of the diamond.

But after signing with the Cubs, J-Hey could no longer get his hands around on fastballs. Pitchers ate him alive by chucking heaters inside and at his knees. Only when he extended his arms could he hit them. For more on that, take a look at Heyward’s run creation profile against fastballs in 2017. You can see that among what is already an ocean of blue, the entire inside portion of the plate is ice cold.

Jason Heyward’s 2017 Runs Above Average Profile

This season, Heyward is finally putting the barrel on fastballs again. Pitchers might want to rethink their strategy of throwing inside heat because the right fielder’s most valuable batted balls come against those pitches.

Jason Heyward’s 2018 Runs Above Average Profile 

And here’s the crazy part for me. You see that dark red area in the above image? That is also really dark red in Heyward’s runs creation profile from 2015, shown below. In other words, we may be seeing the same player who spawned a bidding war between the Cubs, Cardinals, and Nationals.

J-Hey’s rediscovered ability to get to fastballs has resulted in gap-to-gap, hard-hit batted balls. I don’t need to remind you that most of his batted balls over the last two seasons were to the pull-side and on the ground, as painfully illustrated below.

Jason Heyward’s 2017 Spray Map

In the early going here in 2018, Heyward is spraying pitches all over the diamond, reminding me of that oppo homer off Arrieta back in the NLDS. I mean, just look at the difference here, folks.

Jason Heyward’s 2018 Spray Map

 

Even though the season is still young, it’s hard not to be encouraged by Heyward’s results. And most of his damage has come more recently, suggesting that perhaps something clicked for him. Granted, several numbers have yet to stabilize and, consequently, we might have to control our excitement.

But if we forget the stabilization stuff and numbers for the moment, I think we’re seeing genuine improvements. Just like he did in 2015, Heyward is showing that he can hit fastballs. Not bad for a No. 8 hitter.

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Brendan Miller

Brendan Miller is the better looking and smarter part of the Cubs Related Podcast duo with Corey Freedman. He's also the lead analytics writer for Cubs Insider, tries to be a neuroscientist, and will immediately recognize something different in a player's batting stance or mechanics.

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