How Has Jose Constanza Taken Jason Heyward’s Job?

I will be the first to admit that Jose Constanza is a feel good story for the Atlanta Braves. He is a 27 year old rookie that has finally had a chance to make the majors due to injuries, untimely slumps of everyday players, good hitting in AAA, and the Braves’ infatuation with speed on the basepaths. What baffles me, though, is that Constanza is now playing over Jason Heyward, and Eric Hinske for that matter.

Don’t get me wrong. Constanza is an exciting player. Watching him last night against the Washington Nationals’ John Lannan, was a joy. He is the type of player that is a pest. He is nothing more than a contact hitter. He will put the ball in play, most of the time, and he has the speed to get to first base and beat out some infield singles.

He has been solid thus far for the Braves. He has gone 8-20 for a .400/.400/.450 line. He has scored 3 runs and has collected 2 RBIs in the brief time that he has been with the team.

Constanza is one of the prototypical “AAAA” players. These players are described as being good enough players to do well in AAA, but not be good enough to play in the majors. Constanza, however, is not showing this at this point.

This is what he did in the International League for the Braves:
He hit .312/.361/.351 with 47 RS and 23 SB out of 31 attempts.

Constanza has never had less than a .334 OBP in the minors in his career. For a Braves team that has struggled to get runners on base all year, his presence is welcomed. The Braves has the fourth worst OBP in the National League this year of .310.

Constanza and Michael Bourn could positively affect the OBP of the Braves’ team.

The issue, though, is that Constanza has seemingly transplanted Jason Heyward from the lineup. I am not supportive of the Braves not playing Heyward regularly. Here is why:

1. Remember Jeff Francoeur? How long did the Braves stick with his inept bat in right field at the demise of OBP, RBIs, power, anything? The Braves were much more loyal to Frenchy than they have been with Heyward. It all eventually came to a head, but geez. Heyward is 21 and he was your best player last year. In some ways, I feel like they should go ahead and demote him to let him play everyday to get out of the mental slump that he is in.

2. It becomes increasingly difficult to get your timing, confidence and work out of a slump if you get bumped down the lineup and onto the bench for the majority of games. Heyward has struggled against lefties this year. So has almost every Brave. You don’t see Dan Uggla, Alex Gonzalez or any other Brave hitter sitting on the bench.

3. Instead of dropping Heyward to 7th or 8th in the batting order, why not put him in the 2 or 3 hole for a while? With the way that Freddie Freeman and Dan Uggla are hitting, Heyward hitting in front of them should be rewarded with tons of good pitches to hit. Heyward is hitting .233/.304/.420 out of the 2 hole compared to .136/.296/.136 out of the 7 hole.

4. Despite his offensive struggles, Heyward is still has the 6th best WAR on the team, from positional players stats. He is the 4th best every day player.

For whatever reason, it seems like Heyward is not going to be given the chance to get out of the slump this year. Rumors of the Braves trading for a right-handed hitter to platoon with Heyward seems to have not been too far-fetched.

With the Braves’ current struggles, they cannot afford to continue to sit one of their best players. They need all of the punch they can get in their lineup. Getting Heyward right should be the first concern.

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  • Chris

    The announcers made it clear during the broadcast today that Heyward was simply getting a couple of days off to clear his head. He hit .211 in July. Sometimes time off helps, sometimes it doesn’t, but I can understand the Braves thinking they might as well give it a shot. Nothing else has worked.

    Also, we all know Constanza’s torrid pace isn’t going to last, but I’m of the opinion that while he’s hot, you might as well take advantage of it. It may last another week, it may end today. Fredi also said he probably would have played Heyward and Constanza today but Hinske is batting .433 in his career against Wang. Bottom line is I wouldn’t worry about this too much. Heyward will be back in the lineup and Constanza will platoon with Hinske until McLouth or Chipper come back.

  • Brent

    I agree. Leave Heyward in the lineup, he’ll come around, just like Uggla did.

  • Shane

    We can’t afford to leave Heyward in the lineup right now “to find his swing” while the D-Backs are red hot and quickly closing the gap in the WC race. Constanza gets on base and has the ability to swipe a bag, that’s what we need right now, hence the trade for Micheal Bourn. If we had a capable replacement for Gonzo, I’m pretty sure he would find himself right next to Heyward as he too has been awful at the plate. The chase down the stretch is no place to have someone in the lineup to “not hurt his feelings” or “to find his swing”…that’s what AAA is for. We need the best 8 players out there and right now J-Hey is #9.

    • Chad

      There is absolutely no way you can say that Heyward is our #9 best player. If you go off of WAR for the year, Heyward has been our 4th best every day player. He has hit better since coming off the DL, but he still hasn’t gotten it all going. I think it is obvious that no one is operating the team in terms of hurt feelings or whatever. He is struggling, you have to give the team the best chance to do that. Constanza is a band-aid. Also, we traded for Michael Bourn. Why do we need two speedsters in the lineup?

      • DL Sly

        “Why do we need two speedsters in the lineup?”

        Because speed never goes into a slump.
        And yes, Frenchy got a lot more playing time during his (what now appears to be permanent) slump. So did Kelly Johnson. But those were Bobby Cox years, and Bobby Cox isn’t the man on the bench calling the shots anymore. Jason’s swing hasn’t been the same since he hurt his shoulder. He’s using too much upper body to get his swing started and it’s making him beat the ball into the ground. He needs time to get that straightened out. Unfortunately we’re in the middle of an ever tightening WC race and still hold a decent chance at taking the division from the Phillies, and he just won’t get the reps he needs in the Bigs. He needs to go back to AAA for a while to reactivate the muscle memory and hand/eye timing that made him the runner-up for ROY last year.

        • Chad

          I spoke with the guy at Scouting the Sally, which is a great resource for scouting prospects. The low down on Constanza is that he is fast, but plays poor defense. I can’t help but think about him like a sparkler: it’s nice while it is burning, but it will fade fast.

          Watching him against the Mets on Sunday was nice. He manufactured our 2nd run of the game. No other way about it. He had the infield single because he made the pitcher rush to try to make the throw. He beat out the double play ball, which I had not seen often. Then, he took 3rd on the “pass ball” that was right in front of the catcher, which he could not throw quick enough. And he scored on Bourn’s single. That was the reason why speed is important in the lineup.

          All I am saying is that Heyward is the type of hitter that can carry our team. Constanza will get us a run or two every couple games. Heyward can carry us. I think he will show everyone in the last few weeks of the season.

  • Mark in Memphis

    Heyward’s problem is that his swing is not what it used to be, probably because of unconscious adjustments made while his shoulder was hurting. If he was going to “find his swing” on his own, he would have done it by now – given the length of time his shoulder has not been hurting.

    I agree that the Majors is NOT the place to be working on mechanical things. As said in a previous post “that’s what AAA is for”.

    However, the problem is Heyward at 80% is better than our bench at 100%.

    We don’t want to give pitchers a really good look at Henske playing every day. He is really effective in spot starts and pinch hitting. If he plays every day, they will find holes in his swing. You don’t want that to happen to what is basically our best pinch hitter.

    Heyward still have productive at bats. He doesn’t have to work as hard against RH pitchers. He can work on his mechanics a bit against RH pitchers. So it does make some sense to sit him against tough lefties for the remainder of the season or until he does “get his swing back”.

    • Chad

      I agree with you. I am not opposed to sitting against tough lefties. I think it would help ease his mind to only have to focus on the RH pitchers right now. But, Constanza shouldn’t play over him consistently. If this happens, the Braves will continue to slide in the WC standings.

  • bk

    some of you guys on here dont know to much about baseball. speed is a threat in the game of baseball. it changes the way pitchers pitch, it makes the defense tighten up and prone to make mistakes. right now heyward cd not hit the side of a barn and gonzalez is trying to do what he can to keep the braves ahead in the wc standings and not lose anymore games to the phils. believe it or not the braves can catch the phils if they get on a losing streak of like 5 out 8 and the braves go 6-2 in the strech, then they are right back on their heels. constanza is making things happen, heyward is not, i agree that being benched isnt goin to help but where else can you play constanza? prado in left, bourn in center and constanza in left as long as he stays hot. him hot is better than jason cold right now.

    • Chad

      Look, I am pulling for Constanza just as much as you are. The person that is going to help the Braves get into the playoffs is Heyward, not Constanza. He is the equivalent of a sparkler firework: he looks great right now, but he is going to fizzle out pretty quickly.

      I know the importance of speed. Michael Bourn is the best speedster in the game. He made the Braves look foolish when we played them earlier this year. Now he is on our team.

      Heyward is going to come around. Mark it down.