To say that expectations for Jason Heyward coming into his second season in the majors were high, would be a huge understatement. His arrival in Atlanta last year and his instant success and promise that he showed helped create the expectations heading into the 2011 season. Fans, fellow teammates, the coaches and the front office expected huge things from their big 22 year-old right-fielder.
Heyward disappointed many as he struggled throughout the 2011 year. He went on the disabled list in May and missed 3 1/2 weeks into June with a shoulder injury. He never looked a 100% at any time during the year.
What is remarkable, is all of the praises and high words of acclaim he was given in 2010, I never heard one issue or potential issue with Heyward’s swing. When he struggled this year, everyone was analyzing his swing and the “holes” that he had in it and how the pitchers found it.
How can Heyward develop holes in his swing when last year there were none? Is it the hitting coaches’ fault? Were they really there and pitchers had never figured it out before this season? Was it because of the injury to his shoulder that caused these holes to develop?
The answers are unclear. If Heyward’s offseason strengthening and conditioning program helps strengthen his shoulder and he enters 2012 healthy, maybe this could answer those questions.
The thing that irks me about all of this is the way he was treated throughout this year.
It all started when he was on the DL in June. Chipper Jones called Heyward out by saying that it is better to have him in the lineup at 80% than it is to have him healing on the disabled list. Not surprisingly, Heyward was back in the Braves’ lineup within a week and continued to struggle.
After this time, the Braves lost Nate McLouth for the season and had Martin Prado on the disabled list. They called up Jose Constanza at the end of July and he was an instant success. After trading for Michael Bourn, Constanza moved to right field and took many at bats away from Heyward.
Constanza added an element to the Braves’ lineup that they did not have: a hitter with speed to get on base and cause havoc on the basepaths. This worked for 2-3 weeks. Constanza hurt his ankle and then he crashed back down and hit less than .200 for the rest of the year.
I am an avid believer that you need to manage and make decisions to help your team win. I don’t mind this mindset at all. But, the reality is that Fredi Gonzalez seemed to single Heyward out throughout the entire second half. Heyward deserved some of it and if the Braves would have added a bat that was better than him, he should have lost at bats. But, they didn’t add that bat. Matt Diaz is a good option against lefties. Jose Constanza’s 10 minutes of fame was over quickly.
The thing that bothers me the most about all of this, is no one attacked our left-fielder for lack of production. Martin Prado struggled throughout most of the season as well. He never showed the promise he displayed in 2010. Compare Prado’s 2011 with Heyward’s 2011:
Prado scored more runs, drove in more runs and had a better average than Heyward. Prado also had more than 100 ABs more than Heyward. Further, Prado had the luxury of hitting in the 2 hole in front of Brian McCann and Chipper Jones for almost the entire 2011 season. It is hard to believe that Heyward had a better OBP and OPS than Prado, but he did.
The issue is that Fredi Gonzalez, Frank Wren or no one else has said anything about Prado’s poor play. All of the attention has been directed solely at Heyward.
If you want to consider their WARs, this may further confuse you.
Heyward was, by far, a better player than Prado in 2011. He was worth more than double in runs above replacement and wins above replacement.
So, why is Heyward the one that is singled out for being the weakest link on the team?
Look at a quote from Frank Wren and Fredi Gonzalez about Heyward:
On Prado batting second even as he slumped
“You know, that’s one of those things that at the end of the day you’re thinking, what if I would have done this different? What if I would have hit the pitcher eighth for two more weeks instead of four days? Maybe we should have played Constanza more? Maybe we hung with Heyward too long? All kinds of scenarios.
he’s going to be in a battle unless he continues to progress at a good rate. It’s not a given he’s our right fielder. We’re going to go into the offseason (keeping) in mind that we’ve got to have offensive production from right field. And we didn’t get that this year.
Yes, you need production out of right field. Hell, you need offensive production out of shortstop, third base, left field, catcher…every position. But, come on!
The way that the 2011 Braves’ team was built put all of this pressure on Jason Heyward. Alex Gonzalez was on the team because of his defense. Martin Prado seems to get a pass because he can play multiple positions. He would be a much better second baseman than left-fielder. Nate McLouth and Jordan Schaefer were never a solution or answer to any problem.
The Braves built their 2011 team with the expectation that Jason Heyward would be similar to the 2010 Heyward. This is the only reason I can think of that would cause him to be criticized so much publicly.
This didn’t work very well for the Braves in 2011. The Braves now should be looking for an upgrade in the left-field and shortstop. They cannot enter into next season with all of the pressures of the offense falling on Jason Heyward.
What is frightening, though, is that the pressure won’t be on Heyward. The pressure will be on Freddie Freeman next year. The Braves are in the same boat heading into 2012 where they are going to be depending on a second year player to put up a comparable or better 2nd year performance. A few comments have already been made about how no one is worrying about Freeman, because “his swing is too good.”
Hopefully, the Braves’ front office will learn from their mistake this past season.
Hopefully, Jason Heyward will show the Braves that they shouldn’t have doubted him and that they picked on the wrong outfielder.