At 26, Heyward should be entering his traditional prime where he is expected to build from a career .268/.353/.431 slash line, .345 wOBA and 118 wRC+. He has been one of baseball’s best all-around players since debuting in 2010. His 27.8 fWAR is the 11th best among players since 2010. He has a respectable 10.8 BB% and manageable 18.5 K% that dipped to 14.8% with the Cardinals in 2014.
However, the one aspect notably missing from his game is power.
Heyward hit 18 homers as a rookie in 2010, then smashed a career-best 27 two years later. But in three years since, he hasn’t flashed the kind of traditional power numbers one would expect from a right fielder with his 6-foor-5-inch, 245-pound frame.
So, what gives?
Fast forward to 2015, where Heyward’s HR/FB% nearly doubled from 6.5% to 12.0%, but his FB% bottomed out to a career-worst 23.5%. Meanwhile, Heyward’s ground ball rate ballooned to 57.2%. With that, his hard-hit rate dipped to 28.9%, which put him 84th among 141 qualifiers.
It’s possible that Heyward’s homes have helped suppress his home run totals. Taking a look at Park Factors via ESPN, Turner Field ranked 13th, 17th, 22nd, 18th and 10th in Heyward’s time with the Braves, while Busch Stadium ranked 23rd. In those same seasons, Wrigley Field has finished ninth, 14th, 19th, 11th, 19th and third. It’s conceivable that a change of scenery could help Heyward’s home run cause.
All things considered, Heyward can improve his offensive numbers if he can bump up his hard-hit rate, trim his ground ball percentage and produce an increased number of fly balls and line drives. Home runs may or may not come of it, but it could only help his odds in unlocking his power potential.
During Heyward’s introductory press conference, Cubs Theo Epstein invoked the name of Dwight Evans as a comparison.
Evans thrived under the tutelage of hitting coach Walt Hriniak, who was profiled here in a piece worthy of your time. As noted in the linked piece, Hriniak played a role in the successes of famed Red Sox hitters such as Carl Yastrzemski, Wade Boggs and Carlton Fisk. White Sox Hall of Fame hitter Frank Thomas also found success after learning from Hriniak.
Evans played for the Red Sox from 1972-90, but didn’t find a consistent power stroke until 1982 in his age 30 season when he cranked out his first 30-homer campaign. It’s interesting to note that from age 26-33, Evans averaged 28 homers and 83 RBI, while posting an .859 OPS and 130 OPS+ from 1978-85. Prior to that, Evans owned a respectable career .775 OPS and 112 OPS+ through his age 25 season in 1977.
Heyward owns a similar 114 OPS+ and .784 OPS through his age 25 season, which recently wrapped up with the Cardinals.
The 2015 Cubs ranked fourth in FB% (36.2%), sixth in hard-hit percentage (30.1%) and ninth in HR/FB% (11.9%). Perhaps Heyward will be well-servied working with Cubs hitting coach John Mallee. When Mallee was the Astros’ hitting coach from 2012-14, Houston’s 34.3 FB% ranked 15th in baseball, while the team’s 11.2 HR/FB% ranked 10th.
Mallee has already mentioned wanting to take a look at why Heyward hit so many ground balls last year, and digging in on that question might be the first step.