Jason Heyward and the value of baserunning

Jason O. Watson

If you weren’t able to stay up for the game last night, you missed one hell of an exhibition on the basepaths from Jason Heyward.

It is no secret Heyward is an exceptional base runner. According to Mitchel Licthman’s Ultimate Base Running (UBR) stat, Jason Heyward has been the best baserunner is the league over the past three seasons. You can read about the stat more in depth here, but the short and dirty version is that it attempts to measure all baserunning events aside from stolen base attempts - aspects such as taking an extra base and tagging up. Adding in stolen bases, he still ranks as a top 20 baserunner, despite going 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts last season.

Anyway, back to last night. Heyward lead off the 6th, ripping a poorly located changeup off Ryan Vogelsong to right field. The next batter, Justin Upton, proceeded to fly out to right-center field, in which Jason Heyward tagged from first and slid into second uncontested. Awareness of the arm of Angel Pagan in center, as well as recognizing the wind was carrying the ball (and Pagan) into the gap, allowed Heyward to make the correct decision.

The next batter, Freddie Freeman, worked a 2-2 could and one-handed a bloop between the second baseman and right fielder. Because the Giants had second baseman Brandon Hicks playing a very shallow right field, Heyward had to hold near second in case the ball was caught by either fielder. Fortunately, the ball fell and Heyward was able to advance.

Then, for god knows what reason, Doug Dascenzo decided to send Heyward home. Looking at the replay sync, Heyward was still three steps from third base when Hunter Pence fielded the ball. I’ll let the remaining pictures, the first two in which you can’t even see Heyward, tell the rest of the story.

Eventually, Buster Posey caught the throw in with Jason still having about 25ft. to go. Somehow, some way, Heyward was able to avoid the tag, scoring the first of three runs in the inning. Pretty incredible, as you can see below.

Posey, who was likely in shock, didn’t react to the ump's call as the corresponding replay confirmed he was indeed safe. The ability for a 6-foot-5, 245 lb. human being, running full speed, to avoid a tag from nearly 25 feet away is astonishing.

The debate on Heyward’s offense at the plate is a topic for another day, but there is no debate that his combination of baserunning and defense rivals any player in the league. This skill set gives him a remarkably high floor, I’d argue up to +3 wins, that any above average offensive production at the plate is a bonus.

Heyward isn’t a perfect player by any means, but the Braves truly do have a special talent. Fans who continuously get lost in his .200 average must remember that base running and fielding play a large role in the game of baseball. Jason Heyward is currently one of the best, if not best, at both.

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