From my Braves season preview earlier today…
Will Jason Heyward be able to reclaim his 2010 form and carry the team to a playoff berth, or were his struggles in 2011 the signs of a bigger problem? Personally, I think he’ll be fine in 2012 because of the shoulder that plagued him in 2011, but if he struggles out of the gate, the Braves mob could begin to mobilize around Heyward with torches.
Jason Heyward’s 2010 rookie season, at age 21: .277/.393/.456, 623 plate appearances, 18 homers, 11 stolen bases, .335 BABIP, 14.6% walk rate, 20.5% strikeout rate
Jason Heyward’s 2011 sophomore season, at age 22: .227/.319/.389, 456 plate appearances, 14 homers, 9 stolen bases, .260 BABIP, 11.2% walk rate, 20.4% strikeout rate
Now, go ahead and compare those two lines. You see that all three of the triple slash marks were lower in 2011 than in 2010, and that the walk rate also plunged. You can point your finger immediately at one thing: BABIP. Heyward’s BABIP fell by 75 points from 2010 to 2011, which can be explained by a number of things….change in approach, injury, crappy luck. All three are probably true, as Heyward never seemed to gel with new hitting coach Larry Parrish and his preaching of aggressiveness, and he injured his shoulder during the spring, and it was with him all season.
The lack of strength in Heyward’s shoulder helps account for his decrease in line drive percentage (down to 13.1% from 17.8%), and also his dramatic spike in infield flyball percentage (up to an insane 21.8% from 8.4%). Parrish’s approach helps account for the decrease in walk rate, as Heyward’s overall swing percentage increased from 39.4% to 44.7%, and his percentage of swings on balls outside of the strike zone rose from 24.4% to 28.8%. I’m not breaking down any walls here, as Heyward’s bad 2011 season has been a source of discussion among Braves fans for months, with most coming to the conclusion that it was a complete perfect storm of negativity.
With Parrish being replaced by former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, Heyward will probably be reverting to his old swing habits at the plate, which can only mean good things. His shoulder is also healthy after an offseason of mild rehab, which it never was in 2011. Despite a slow start to the spring so far (which quite frankly, nearly everyone on the Braves is suffering from), Heyward should be good to go for the 2012 season. If he’s not, the team isn’t going to the playoffs. It’s really that simple.