If you watch the Atlanta Braves on a nightly basis, it’s easy to understand why Andrelton Simmons is regarded as the best defender in the game. He has extraordinary range to go along with a cannon for an arm, and he plays the position with remarkable grace. His brilliance makes it easy to forget that there’s another supremely talented fielder in Jason Heyward playing behind him in the outfield.
Here’s some perspective on how good Heyward has been in right field this season. Despite only hitting .209 with an OBP just north of .300, Heyward ranks 20th in MLB in WAR. His 1.4 WAR puts him ahead of Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Jose Abreu. His 14 Defensive Runs Saved Above Average is far and away the best mark among all outfielders.
While the 24-year-old outfielder is capable of making spectacular diving catches and has a great arm, it’s the little things he does that make him so valuable. In a recent game against the Chicago Cubs, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit a ball to right field that Heyward couldn’t get to. However, he quickly got to the ball and fired it back to the infield, allowing Simmons to cut the ball off and catch Rizzo wandering too far away from first base. Just hustling to the ball and getting it in quickly and accurately helped the Braves get out of the inning without allowing a run.
You can’t overlook Heyward’s range either. At 6-foot-5 with above-average speed, Heyward covers as much ground as any right fielder in the game. He even made 20 starts in center field last year, playing the position as well as any Braves player since Andruw Jones. Heyward may never have the highlight reel or hardware to match Jones, but the fact that a comparison can even be made speaks volumes about his defensive ability.
On defensive merit alone, Heyward is one of the most valuable outfielders in the National League. If he can get his production at the plate closer to his career averages, he could end up being one of the 10 most valuable players in baseball.