For most of the year, Jason Heyward’s offensive struggles have revolved around sharp declines in batting average, slugging percentage (mostly because of consistently weak contact) and highlighted by what projects to be a career lows in traditional counting stats such as home runs and runs batted in.
But as the season has moved into August, Heyward’s struggles are no longer simply tied to results on balls in play, as he has also seen a decline in one of the aspects that made him a valuable offensive player despite hitting for a low batting average.
Heyward has reached base at a .305 clip entering today’s game against the Brewers, which is a whopping 48 points lower than his career on-base percentage prior to 2016. Heyward’s 17.0% strikeout rate is the highest it’s been since 2012.
Complicating matters here is a month-by-month decline in Heyward’s walk rate, which came with a trim to the number of pitches he saw per plate appearance.
Here is a look at what that particular slide has looked like on a month-by-month basis:
For what it’s worth, Heyward has been adept in his ambush attempts (12 hits in 32 at-bats) with a .375 average and .469 slugging percentage on the first pitch of an at-bat. And when he gets ahead early, things seem to go well for him, evidenced by a .292 average (7-for-24) when he goes after the 1-0 pitch. On the other hand, Heyward is batting .156 with a .178 slugging percentage when faced with a 0-1 count. Things get ugly there when taking into consideration that 26 of those 46 plate appearances (56.5 percent) have resulted in ground outs.
There might be a strategic advantage for Heyward to attack pitches he can handle early in the count before falling behind. And this might be what that result looks like when broken down at this level.
Heyward has seen an increasing number of strikes as the months have gone by, save for July. This trend coincides with a decrease in walk rate and pitches per plate appearance. Heyward seemed to be putting up numbers that looked more like career norms, but the amount of contact he has made in the strike zone in August seems to have sapped that progress.
The cat-and-mouse game continues as Heyward tries to break out of a season-long funk. Now that he has been dropped in the order, the ground outs hurt less. However, the inability to coax walks has not only put a dent in his offensive value, but also cuts into run scoring opportunities for hitters in the lower third of the order. The Cubs’ lineup is obviously more dangerous when it can get production out of the bottom, even if that production is simply about turning the lineup back over to the top.