Jason Heyward and Cody Bellinger Each Had a Day That Necessitated a Lot of Swing Talk
The two players are different in so many ways. The teams on which they’ll play are just as different. And, although the expectations for each this year are tempered, they’re still separated by a rather large gulf.
So I don’t want any discussions of Jason Heyward and Cody Bellinger to devolve into “who’s going to be better?” or “who is going to do more for his new team?” That’s not really what these kinds of conversations are about.
Instead, they’re being discussed together – today, at least – because they are both formerly excellent lefty-batting outfielders who fell on very hard times with their former club, swapped teams in the same offseason, and then had notable days at the plate yesterday. It was IMPOSSIBLE not to discuss them together.
We heard for much of the offseason that Jason Heyward “dramatically” transformed his swing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and we got a look at it yesterday in game action. Because he homered:
Hey, firstly, good for him. Do well, JHey!
Secondly, I’m not so sure I see much of a different swing.
I am not a swing scout, so I am admittedly crappy at noticing very subtle changes. But what I see there is a noticeable change to his hand and feet position pre-load, and then a difference in his toe tap – all of which are (as I understand it) about timing. None are actually about the swing, itself, which looks the same to me as it always did. The thing is, the reason Heyward was always tweaking his various timing mechanisms is because his swing – loopy and in the zone for so little time – requires perfect timing to have anything resembling consistent success. It’s what we were warned about before he signed with the Cubs, and as he got older and bat speed did its natural aging thing, that margin for error in his swing got more and more narrow. That meant less solid contact, and less meaningful results. And then the timing got more and more important (especially against good fastballs), so it was kinda all we heard about for the last couple years.
In that video, I see a well-timed version of Heyward’s swing wrecking a terrible pitch. Maybe he’ll be able to do that often enough this year to be productive, and/or maybe his pre-load changes will allow him to see pitches better, improving the discipline rates at the margins? I’m not ruling anything out – as I said, I’m a total amateur on swing stuff – but based on the stuff we were hearing about his swing changes, I expected it to look a lot more different through the hitting zone.
All that said, I will feel nothing but good things for Heyward if he rebounds this year and is productive with the Dodgers. I know that for some it’ll engender bitterness, since he couldn’t do it with the Cubs (who are still paying him), or it will evoke barbs at the Cubs for failing where the Dodgers succeeded. Do you. For me, though, it was crystal clear that whatever may happen for Heyward this year, it was *NOT* going to happen with the Cubs. They tried. He tried. Every year. So many tweaks. So much time. So much runway. Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, it just doesn’t work.
And then sometimes, it takes a dramatic change – moving to a new team, for example – to trigger a cascading effect that leads to improvement. Maybe that happens now for Heyward. I don’t plan to rip the Cubs if it does.
If Cody Bellinger bounces back this year with the Cubs, I presume we aren’t going to rip the Dodgers for failing to make it work, right? It’s just going to be that (1) he and the Cubs did some good things, and (2) it was a right place, right situation thing. Just as it could be for Heyward. All the best to him.
Speaking of Bellinger, he notched his first couple hits with the Cubs yesterday, and also sent one to the wall in center field, juuuuust shy of a grand slam. To my amateur eye, I thought this looked like a really good swing against a slightly-elevated fastball on the outer third from a fellow lefty, barreling it up and sending it to left center:
There’s no question that Robbie Ray wanted that one a little higher, and we can’t know if the outcome would’ve looked quite as pretty if he’d gotten it there. But he didn’t, so it looked nice.
What others noticed about how it looked:
Now, does the fact that Bellinger is back to being more upright at the plate – like he was in his MVP season – mean he’s going to have improved success this year? Well, not alone, no. Presumably he went away from that for a reason (hopefully maybe it was the health stuff that he’s now over?), so you can’t just assume that a different stance is going to fix everything (same as with Heyward).
That said, I do recall that the work Bellinger has been doing this offseason on his swing has been self-directed, with the Cubs’ work mostly just about helping him be more “athletic” in the box. So you could at least imagine a world where Bellinger, now completely healthy from the shoulder and leg injuries, would feel more comfortable trying to go back to a more challenging swing, which can generate more power?
(Back in 2018/19 when Bellinger was exploding, I used to say that his upright approach and swing could generate SOOOO much lofted power, but it requires so much bat speed in order to make enough quality contact to justify the approach in the first place – you do wonder if, in addition to the injuries, that’s part of the issue here as he gets older. Looks like we might find out, in part, this year?)
I will be very interested to see how Bellinger looks throughout the spring, and whether he can make the old approach work like new. We won’t REALLY know until several months of the regular season has passed, but I suppose for now I just want to see if he’s really consistent with the swing. If he appears to feel very comfortable.
Candidly, I am less interested to see how Heyward looks throughout the spring. It doesn’t really impact the Cubs, so, while I do wish him well, I’d much rather talk about the new center fielder.