The Atlanta Braves do not seem to be taking the kind of heat for their September collapse that the Boston Red Sox are taking, but it was just as bad. For fans, it was head scratching because they should have been a juggernaut right through the season. But a sub-par season from Dan Uggla didn't help after the high expectations there. What few realize is that Jason Heyward was worse...much worse than Dan Uggla. Heyward's collapse is notable when you think back to the start of 2010 when he was the talk of baseball. He was the next big thing. He made the All Star team his rookie season. He was going to be a super star. So what happened?
The obvious fact is that he hurt his shoulder and the balky wing joint totally messed up his mechanics. There were whispers on Twitter that he had developed into the worse swing in baseball. His final 2011 slash line of .222/.319/.389 doesn't come close to showing how badly his season went. To get the total picture, you have to dig deeper into the numbers.
What numbers? Let's start with his line drive percentage of 13.1 percent, the third lowest in baseball for players in 2011 with 400 or more plate appearances. How about his infield fly ball rate of 21.8 percent which was the highest in baseball for all players in 2011 with 400 or more plate appearances. Add in his ground ball rate of 53.9 percent, the twelfth highest in baseball and you have a recipe for a lost season for a player that was supposed to be the next superstar. Heyward put the ball in play 328 times and 187 of them were either ground balls or weak pop ups. That's 57 percent of his balls in play. Add in his 20.4 percent strikeout rate and you have a much bleaker picture than his slash line would ever give you.
It got so ugly during the season that Heyward's manager, Fredi Gonzalez, benched Heyward for several games in favor of the great Jose Constanza. The only positive side to Heyward's season was his continued terrific defense in right field and his base running skills. Those two positives at least made him a 2.2 fWAR player despite his batting woes. But certainly, a 2.2 WAR isn't what the Atlanta Braves were hoping for after his 5.1 fWAR season in 2010, another season abbreviated a bit by injuries.
Heyward is aware of his predicament. The once top prospect in baseball has been whispered in trade rumors this off season. He needs to turn things around in 2012. An article over at MLB.com (which inspired this post) seems to show that he is committed to returning to form and that's a good thing. Heyward seems mature enough to understand that if he wants to succeed at the major league level, he has to work for it. This author admires his dedication and his positive attitude. But as always, the proof will be in the pudding in how he bounces back in 2012.
There are two things of concern though. The first is that he has a manager who does not believe in him. Even when Heyward was in the line up, he was frequently in the bottom third of it. The second is that either he didn't have coaching he needed to correct glaring flaws in his swing, or Heyward wasn't coachable enough to listen. Without inside access, the answer is unknown to which is the case. This author would speculate the former rather than the latter. But that is merely a guess.
The optimistic news for the Braves is that Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward played far below their ability in 2011. If both players return to form, the Braves could be a much better team without making any moves at all. It would be like trading for two great players. As a Fan of the game who got all excited when Jason Heyward made his baseball debut, it is hoped that Jason Heyward can get back to being the outstanding player he appeared to be in the first half of 2010. Heyward is important to baseball and he is important to the Atlanta Braves.