Going into last night’s opener against the Braves, Jason Heyward had recorded back-to-back three-hit games against the Mets (he went 3-4 with a double on both Saturday and Sunday). But unfortunately, that streak came to an end last night, as the lazy bum managed to notch just two hits on the night. A real shame.
Lucky for him, those two hits last night were a double and a homer (which is actually more total bases than either Saturday or Sunday), and that homer was actually a pretty special one:
Jason Heyward never gave up on that breaking ball. pic.twitter.com/xMYS28B2SS
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 25, 2019
It wasn’t particularly scaled off the bat (101 MPH) and it didn’t break any records for distance (401 feet), but it was Heyward’s 11th home run of the season. And if you’re up to date on your recent history, you’ll know that 11 is the most home runs he’s ever hit in a season with the Cubs (7 in 2016, 11 in 2017, 8 in 2018).
But that’s not all:
Number of HRs Through June 24th/Season
2010: 11 HRs (18 overall)
2011: 7 HRs (14 overall)
2012: 11 HRs (27 overall)
2013: 5 HRs (14 overall)
2014: 8 HRs (11 overall)
2015: 9 HRs (13 overall)
2016: 4 HRs (7 overall)
2017: 6 HRs (11 overall)
2018: 4 HRs (8 overall)
This is tied for the most home runs Heyward has ever hit by this point throughout his entire career. I have no doubt he’ll quickly surpass his 2010 pace (Heyward’s next homer didn’t come until August 9th that season), but if he wants to get ahead of his monster 2012 season, he’ll have to launch another long ball before the end of the Braves series! It can happen!*
*I’m begrudgingly obligated to remind you that the ball is now juiced, but that started a few years ago – covering his entire time with the Cubs – and I think Heyward pretty clearly looks better at the plate overall.
Of course, this isn’t just a homer-happy Jason Heyward we’re seeing. He’s also rocking a 12.3% walk rate, which is his highest walk rate since 2010(!) and his slash line … oh baby his slash line … is looking really good: .268/.358/.441 (108 wRC+).
And while I’m not exactly here to tell you that he’s been improving since Day 1 with the Cubs, the trend is pretty impossible to ignore:
So what’s different this year? Well, for one thing, Heyward is pulling the ball FAR less this season (33.5%) than he ever has in his career (42.0%). But he’s not exactly going the opposite way that much more often – like many of his teammates. Instead, he’s using the middle of the field … almost more than anybody in baseball.
This season, Heyward has a 122 Cent%+. That means that he’s hitting the ball up the middle 22% more than the league average hitter, and that rate ranks 8th in baseball, just barely behind guys like David Peralta (126), Joey Votto (124), Christian Yelich (123), and Paul Goldschmidt (123).
He’s also hitting fewer ground balls (45.6%) than he has since 2014 and fewer infield fly balls (11.1%) than he has since 2012. And as I’m sure you would have guessed, Heyward’s 19.9% soft-contact rate and 32.5% hard contact rate are each the third best marks of his carer and best since 2012.
And despite all of that, Heyward actually has a BABIP beneath his career average. And while we’re at it, I may as well mention that his 4.4% barrel rate and 12.0% launch angle are each his best mark in the Statcast ERA (dating back to 2015).
After three straight seasons of mostly nothing at the plate, I’m nowhere near ready to pronounce Jason Heyward fixed (especially not when his xWOBA is actually still lower than his actual wOBA). I’m not falling for that again. HOWEVER, I can say that this elevated level of production is arguably (1) longer and (2) more sustainable, given the peripherals, than anything we’ve seen from him in a Cubs uniform. And that’s plenty to get me through this Tuesday.
Heyward will probably never carry this Cubs offense on his back, but if he’s in this 5-15% better than league average range for a full season, the entire Cubs lineup will look a heck of a lot different. Maybe it already does.