Jason Heyward’s first two seasons in Chicago did not go as expected.
While he did manage to win another two Gold Glove awards (he now has FIVE in right field!), and contributed to the Cubs’ first World Series win in over a century, his play at the plate has been a pale imitation of the guy he was before coming to the Cubs.
Before the Cubs: .268/.353/.431; 97 HRs, 118 wRC+
With the Cubs: .243/.315/.353; 18 HRs, 78 wRC+
Heyward went from someone who was routinely 15-20% better than the league-average hitter to someone who was that much worse than the same. That’s a HUGE drop off for someone with nearly 3,500 plate appearances under his belt before Chicago, let alone a 26-year-old (at the time of the signing) who should’ve had many great years ahead of him.
And after a second straight offseason full of attempted mechanical changes and new approaches at the plate, it’s fair to wonder if there is also a mental component to Heyward’s struggles – if he’s simply become uncomfortable – and if so, how should the Cubs best address it?
The mental side of the game is often hard to target and/or address. The good news is that, like Jon Lester has shown us, those mental hurdles can be overcome. But instead of having Willson Contreras yell out to Jason Heyward every game, the Cubs are gonna see if new hitting coach Chili Davis can give it a go.
“I think more so what Jason and I are trying to do is trying to get Jason to understand the type of hitter that Jason thinks will make him the best offensive player he can be,” Davis said. “When we look back at Jason in 2012 in Atlanta, he was a young kid in the big leagues and he was just being Jason. He put together some really good numbers. Over the years, he’s tried to make adjustments and gotten away from naturally what made Jason a good player. We’re trying to get him back to a little closer to that.”
Perhaps the Cubs will stop trying to turn Heyward into someone who puts the ball in the air more (the thinking was with his natural strength, the power numbers would come as he lifted the ball more often (not to mention the fly ball revolution and juiced ball era stuff)), and instead let him fall back into the sort of line-drive hitter he was with the Braves.
This probably would represent an abandonment of his ceiling/highest potential, but at this point, that’s a perfectly reasonable strategy.
Don’t get me or Davis wrong, though; the Cubs will still be attacking Heyward’s mechanics and pushing him to be the physical best he can be, but according to Sharma, the overarching idea will *not* be about drilling swing changes and making them stick. Instead, they’ll try to bring Heyward to a comfortable place mentally, and let him work through it from there.
And, hey, if the mental half of the game really is his problem, it sounds like a coaching tandem of Joe Maddon and Chili Davis might be the right guys for the job.
I’ll forgive you if you’re not planning to hold your breath (I won’t be), but at least it’s something different. Heyward is still very young, and if he can somehow manage to flip that switch and find his former self, the landscape of the entire Cubs roster would change dramatically.
There’s a reason he got $184 million guaranteed from this front office. There’s still time to hope he shows it.