2012 Braves Player Review: Jason Heyward

Daniel Shirey

Finally back healthy, Heyward changes his offensive game and shines for the Braves with a 20-20 season.

Few players are more fascinating to me than Jason Heyward. I imagine that is the case for most Braves fans, as when Heyward is healthy, he's been a monster.

In 2010, he was an on-base machine with some pop, some speed, and above average defense. It was a fantastic rookie season, and hopes were high heading into 2011. However, Heyward battled injuries and in turn, messed up his swing by compensating for an injured shoulder in a largely lost season.

That brings us to Heyward's 2012 season, which was his best so far overall, and also strikingly different from his very productive rookie season.

Heyward hit .269/.335/.479 on the year, with a .351 wOBA and a 120 wRC+. His walk percentage was down, from 14.6 percent in 2010 to 8.9 percent this year. We also saw an uptick in his strikeout percentage, from 20.5 percent in 2010 to 23.3 percent in 2012.

Looking at his batted ball data, Heyward dropped his ground ball percentage by 10 percent, and in turn hit slightly more line drives and ten percent more fly-balls than he did in 2010 (also three percent more than 2011).

The drop in on-base average was replaced by a sizable increase in in-game power, as Heyward produced a career high ISO of .210 and launched a career high 27 home runs.

It's certainly a different profile with the bat from Heyward, and while he had a better season at the plate in 2010, he managed to raise the level of the rest of his game during this campaign.

Always an instinctive runner on the base paths, a slimmer Heyward found some extra speed and put it to use by stealing a career high 21 bases. He had 20 stolen bases total entering the year.

Looking at his base running as a whole, Fangraphs' base running metric had Heyward as the sixth best base runner in baseball, behind Mike Trout, Jimmy Rollins, Alcides Escobar, Angel Pagan, and Desmond Jennings.

Put as much or as little stock into that as you'd like, but it was clear that Heyward is one of the better base runners around. It can't be said enough how awesome it is to see him going first to third or first to home on a single.

Defensively, Heyward is clearly a plus defensive right fielder, and the metrics backed that up. Defensive runs saved had Heyward at +20 for the season, after two years of +15 each in 2010 and 2011.

Comparably, UZR really liked Heyward, and while this years figure may be high, looking at the three years of data shows he's one of the best defensive right fielders in the game.

In terms of wins above replacement, Heyward had an fWAR of 6.6 (sixth in the National League among position players) and a bWAR of 5.5 (ninth in the National League among position players).

Another good factor in his 2012 campaign that Heyward, who has been called injury prone, managed to stay healthy and play a career high 158 games. After an injury riddled 2011, showing that he could stay healthy for an entire season was big.

The interesting thing is that we're still not sure exactly what kind of player Jason Heyward is going to be. He's shown the ability to be a high on-base average player, and now he's shown the ability to be a legitimate 20-20 or 30-30 player going forward after his 27-21 season this year.

He could be somewhere in the middle of the two, or maybe this version of Heyward is what he'll be like going forward.

Either way, Heyward has been an incredible productive player in two different ways during two of his first three seasons, and the Braves have a nice building block and a potential Most Valuable Player candidate down the road.

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