At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Atlanta Braves’ right-fielder Jason Heyward is far from a prototypical leadoff hitter, but don’t tell him that. Heyward has been the hottest leadoff man in baseball since July 27th, when Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez made the unorthodox adjustment to his lineup.
Since the move, Heyward has had 70 plate appearances in which he’s put up a .361/.443/.525 slash line. Some might argue that he’s just been lucky or gotten hot, but 70 appearances is enough of a sample size for me to think something might actually be happening here.
Besides his five games in which he batted from the three hole and a few other outliers, Heyward has predominately hit second in the lineup. In his 277 appearances batting second, Heyward accrued a .226/.330/.385 slash line with 20 runs batted in.
How many RBIs has Heyward accrued while leading off? 11
Before Heyward took the role of leadoff man, the spot was filled by Braves’ shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who struggled to regularly get on base. Simmons filled the leadoff spot for 62 games this season, where he accrued a terrible .259 on base percentage which, more often than not, left Heyward with no one to hit in.
Now with Heyward at the top of the lineup, he gets opportunities to knock in pinch hitters and the Braves’ pitchers, who have been surprisingly good at the plate this year. Kris Medlen hit an RBI double over Darin Ruf’s head in last nights game to bring his batting average to .200. Julio Tehran has a higher batting average than Braves’ position players Dan Uggla, BJ Upton, and Simmons.
Since the switch to leadoff, Heyward has sustained a batting average .135 points higher than what he had prior to the change. With 70 appearances, I don’t think it’s all luck; read what Heyward had to say about pitchers’ reactions to his switch:
“They’ve got to pitch to me somewhat; they can be careful, but if they do walk me in that situation and you put me on, then you’ve got Justin up with two guys on, so you have some trouble there.”
Lets not forget Heyward’s speed either. He hasn’t needed to use it for stealing much because Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman have been so hot; but in the playoffs, having speed can be a huge advantage. Remember when Dave Roberts stole second in the ninth inning of the 2004 ALCS off Mariano Rivera?
Most importantly though, the Braves are 15 and two since the move.
I’m pleased with Atlanta’s lineup right now. Heyward may not be prototypical leading off, but he’s certainly good enough for me. The Braves have power from top to bottom, a decent amount of speed throughout, and with the largest division lead in baseball, over a month to make any adjustments necessary before the playoffs.