That Jason Heyward struggled at the plate in his first season with the Chicago Cubs was a secret to nobody.
Despite being just 26 years old – with years of above average offensive production and one of the best outfield gloves in the game – Heyward even lost playoff and World Series starts to other, less notable players.
But by now, the work he’s been putting in on his swing in Arizona is equally well-known. Heyward even bought a house near the Cubs facilities in Mesa, so that he could work with Eric Hinske and John Mallee throughout the winter. We’ve discussed his swing changes a few times already.
But now, let’s hear more from the Cubs hitting coach he’s working with, John Mallee.
At ESPN Chicago, the Chicago Tribune, and CSN Chicago John Mallee recently shed some light on the swing changes Heyward’s been working to implement, as well as the effect he’s hoping they’ll produce in the season.
The root of the problem, as Mallee puts it, can be condensed into three areas: Bat angle, launch angle, and sequence of his swing. Back in 2012 – when he launched a career-high 27 home runs – each of those key areas were clicking in unison. In 2016, he lost that synchronicity. “Sometimes things creep into your swing that you don’t even recognize,” Mallee said. But that leads to a broader point about what the Cubs are trying to do with Heyward. According to Mallee, Heyward is simply working to get back to the swing he had in 2012, as opposed to making any wholesale changes.
“The hitting position he got into,” Mallee said, per ESPN. “He was in a better position to strike the ball. In 2016 that got away from him a little bit …. It’s not making a change. It’s getting him back to who he was.”
In that respect, I’m actually quite encouraged and relieved. Making wholesale changes to your swing after seven seasons in the Major Leagues is a daunting task. But reverting back to a swing that has already proved its success is a slightly more feasible undertaking (even if it’s not going to be absolute best version of Heyward that teams have dreamed on since he was a breakout rookie).
But don’t think it doesn’t take hard work, because according to Mallee, Heyward has been working harder since the end of November than most players ever do. And it’s not just because Heyward happened to have a worse season at the plate than many other players. Instead, it’s because implementing swing changes can only be done through repetition.
If it were as easy as watching video, noting some differences and acting differently, these sort of changes could have been handled in season. But instead, Heyward needs to retrain his muscles so that his new, improved swing is the naturally occurring one.
Here’s MLB Network’s take on the improvements:
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) January 13, 2017
At the Chicago Tribune, a Major League scout (who’s apparently studied the various videos released of Heyward’s work) suggested that Heyward has already cut down about 8-10 inches on his swing. Darnell McDonald – the Cubs mental skills program coordinator agrees and believes the changes “should help him get to the ball quicker and hit the ball with more authority.”
Another Cubs’ coach, Eric Hinske, is working with Heyward in Arizona, and was his teammate back in Atlanta, where Heyward had most of his Major League success. Hinske’s knowledge of Heyward’s swing, as the Cubs right fielder put it, has been a huge help this offseason.
Of course, there are no promises or guarantees that Heyward will abruptly turn things around, but I do think his work this offseason is more than the annual “so and so showed up to camp in the best shape/with the best swing/in the best position to succeed of his life” schtick. He’s a young player, with an overwhelmingly positive portfolio of success and he just needs to tap back into it.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what he shows up with.