You often see a player’s season broke into two: first-half and second-half. For Chicago Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, his season broke in a different manner.
Rather than looking at Jason Heyward’s 2018 campaign as pre-All-Star Game and post-All-Star Game, one would be better served looking at it through a different lens: pre-concussion and post-concussion. That’s obviously not how the Chicago Cubs drew it up in Spring Training, but that’s how things fell for Heyward this year.
After Heyward’s first two seasons where he slashed a combined .243/.315/.353, his eight-year, $184 million contract looks more than a little heavy. It looks like a colossal mistake, despite his 2016 World Series clubhouse speech and back-to-back Gold Glove Awards.
In 2016 he posted the worst offensive numbers of his career. That winter he set out in earnest to reconfigure his swing for 2017 but managed to barely eke out better results than the year prior. Heading into 2018 after yet again refining his swing I think he, the fans, and the front office, knew the 2018 season had to be different.
Deja vu all over again
But 2018 didn’t start out that way. By the end of April, his slash line was .247/.344/.390 and it looked like yet another lost year offensively was in the works. Six days later on May 6, it had sunk to .227/.315/.340.
But a fateful and fortunately not more serious injury occurred as Heyward banged into the right-field wall chasing a Dexter Fowler walk-off home run. Two days later Heyward was on the seven-day concussion DL. He did not appear in another game until May 18.
A season resurrected
Ten days after Heyward’s return, May 28, the season hit bottom (.222/.306/.350). Then it all turned around. June was his best month as a Cub (.327/.364/.510) and by mid-July, his slash line had risen to .290/.349/.434 and he was among those keeping the Cubs in contention as Bryant, Rizzo, and Russell struggled to get their bats going and/or stay on the diamond.
However, it wasn’t to last. Like most of the Cubs (except Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist) Heyward slid into a power outage in September and October. Nonetheless, he finished the year at .270/.335/.395, posted a 1.6 WAR, and played his usual strong defense in right field as he was in the running yet again for a Gold Glove.
Would I take a .270/.335/.395 season slash from Heyward moving forward? More power would be nice as a 92 OPS+ is a little tough to take given his contract. But the power has been gone from Heyward’s game for a long time if it was ever there. He hit 27 home runs in 2012 and has never gotten close to a 20-homer season since then.
So moving ahead if we could get an average around .270 to .280 and an on-base in the .340 to .360 range, I think we could all be happy. Heyward remains one of the toughest in the league to strike out, and while his walk rate has suffered a little, that is a much easier adjustment than an elusive search for power that was never there to begin with. It wouldn’t make the contract a win for the front office, but it would make it a much easier load to carry.
Finally, among some fans, there is the fantasy of moving Heyward. Forget it. He turns 30 this year and is owned between $22.5 million (2019) to $24.5 million (2022-23) for the duration of this deal. Even if the Cubs agreed to eat a huge chunk of that contract I don’t see a team biting. So let’s hope moving forward that the bat improves and defense remains top-tier.