Given the angle from our seats at Wrigley yesterday, Jason Heyward’s fourth triple of the season – and first hit of the day – didn’t look entirely deserved.
Sure, we could see that he hit the ball on a line right back up the middle (and that’s great!), but with the center fielder, Billy Hamilton, falling to the ground after initially misreading it, finding the outfield grass sure felt fortunate. But it wasn’t entirely.
With a second look at it on tape, I think it’s pretty clear that the ball was probably going over Hamilton’s head regardless of whether he fell down, and the 108 MPH exit velocity does nothing to shake my confidence in that. And while that may have been his most well-struck ball of the day, Heyward added three more hits before the afternoon was over for his fourth four-hit game of the season:
To be sure, there was another infield hit and a bloop single that were a little lucky, but the BABIP gods don’t discriminate, and, yesterday, Heyward was on the receiving end of the good stuff … which couldn’t have come at a better time.
Although he hit a solid .285/.344/.431 (108 wRC+) in the first half of the season, Heyward’s second half stats (before yesterday) were quite poor (72 wRC+) and dragged his season slash line back below the league average mark: .271/.336/.394 (97 wRC+).
But with just one good game and a little luck, Heyward is now slashing .278/.342/.405 (102 wRC+), which is two percent better than the league average. Woo hoo! Slightly better than average! Given all that he provides on defense and on the bases (and two years of struggle before this season), finishing the year as an above-average offensive contributor is pretty much the only goal – especially because that would make him a 3-3.5 WAR player (still a far cry from what the Cubs thought they would be getting when they signed him, but a very useful player nonetheless).
As for the likelihood of doing that for the rest of the season, well that’s another question. When sorting through his rolling 10-game averages, there’s not much to latch onto. His soft and hard-hit data, which had gone completely awry, have just barely begun to trend in the right direction lately, but it’s far too early to tell if that’s going to stick.
Meanwhile, after making some progress on the utterly horrendous ratio between his ground balls and fly balls, each has stalled out a bit here lately. And finally, there’s lukewarm news on his K/BB data, which shows an ever-decreasing strikeout rate (hooray!) with a below average (and worsening) walk rate (boo). Heyward simply hasn’t been at the top of his game lately, which is all the more reason to be happy about yesterday’s performance.
That performance, it’s worth pointing out, came after Heyward got a couple days off to rest a barking ankle.
Given the way Albert Almora and Ian Happ have been performing lately – and the way Kyle Schwarber’s results don’t quite match his peripherals – the Cubs could really use a solid, above-average offensive finish from Heyward. Even with Kris Bryant coming back, Ben Zobrist hitting well, and Daniel Murphy in the fold, it’ll matter.