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Jason Heyward has become a slap hitter ... and maybe that's okay

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Learning to fall in love all over again with Jason Heyward for completely different reasons

Scott Cunningham

Jason Heyward announced his presence in such a manner that he melted all of our hearts.  Coming to the plate in the first game of the season, to chants of his name, for his first MLB plate appearance, he launched a massive 470+ foot home run.  He was a highly touted prospect before, who had put on a show in spring training, but he nearly became a legend in that one at bat.  It was the kind of moment that, however brief, makes all this other #Barves nonsense we put up with on a weekly basis seem worth it.  It was an awe inspiring moment of pure unadulterated power in both a literal and figurative sense.

There were perhaps doubts that he'd be able to stay in the outfield if he continued to grow.  He might be forced to first base, or become a defensive liability in right field.  Further, there's no possible way he could consistently be a great baserunner given his massive frame.  But my God the power, you could suffer any of those things down the road, because the power, that was obviously a given.  Jason Heyward was to be the huge power bat that the Braves had really lacked for a long time.  Maybe he wouldn't be the overall hitter that Chipper was, but he'd hit for power and he'd take his walks.  .280/.390/.540 was basically expected of him.  He certainly looked the part, and in that at bat showed that he obviously was the real deal, at least in that regard.

It's now 2014, and time for some player A / player B blind comparisons.

Player A: ISO - .112; SLUG - .452; 48 XBH

Player B: ISO - .121; SLUG - .393; 37 XBH

I'll give you a hint, one of these players is 5'6" tall and one of them is nearly (if not actually) an entire foot taller at 6'5".

Player A is the diminutive Jose Altuve; player B is Jason Heyward.

I once met a girl, at a bar.  I thought she was the most attractive girl I'd ever seen.  We had a really good time, but didn't seem to have very much in common.  Conversation stalled and was awkward at times, but goodness she was pretty to look at.  We went on a second date a week later, and well ... things were different.  I didn't really think she was quite the knockout, but I guess she was just really shy on our first date and took some time to open up.  We had an incredible time together thereafter, we dated for several months, and now she's one of my best friends.

A thing about me you should probably know is that deep down I'm a terrible person.  When I first saw her on our second date, my heart sank a little bit.  I hate to admit this about myself, but it's the way I felt in that moment.  My knee jerk reaction was to cry over what I thought I had lost "this can't be the same girl!"  I may have learned to love her more for what she really was later, but there was a moment where all I wanted to do was pout over what she wasn't.

Jason Heyward, as his stats sit today, has the highest bWAR of any position player in the National League.  By fWAR he's been worth over 5 wins, which is easily best on the team.  It's hard to argue that anybody else on this underperforming squad has been more valuable than Jason Heyward.  Thus far the Braves have already gotten nearly $28 MM in value for only $4.5 MM in salary.

Jason Heyward has been a defensive beast, and in all honesty should probably be the Braves' center fielder.  He's in a lot of ways your prototypical leadoff, up the middle of the defense guy: high OBP, great base running, great defense, not much power, and he's currently relatively cheap.  Given that time after time we've heard a clamoring for that sort of player, repeated refrains of "if this team only had a true leadoff hitter...," why aren't we celebrating his greatness?

Probably because we can't get rid of that "stomach dropping" feeling now that we're seeing him in a different light from the glory of that first at bat 470+ foot homer.  We're still attached to the image of the supermodel we thought we were getting, even if the total package we have now is probably even better.

We can maybe hope that Jason's power returns, but I think we have to realize that at this point Jason Heyward has had more sub .450 slugging seasons (3) than he's had above that mark (2).  In the last three seasons he's seen his ISO fall, and then fall even more.  He went from a promising .210 (2012) to a disappointing .173 (2013) to a shocking .121 this season.  There is simply more evidence that points to the conclusion that he's simply not what we should call a power hitter than there is evidence saying he is.  That's not to say that it's impossible his power will return, but maybe to say that at this point it's more of a hope than a reasonable expectation.  By all accounts this has been his healthiest season in MLB, and he's putting up his lowest power numbers.

However, we can (and should) learn to fall in love with this guy all over again anyway, if for different reasons.  He'll show glimpses here and there of the power, and we should appreciate it when it's there, but we should also be okay when it isn't there. What Jason Heyward has shown, year after year, is that he will provide all-world defense, run the bases well and get on base.  He can consistently be a 4-6 win player, even if he doesn't put up mammoth, or even good, power numbers.  That's something to be celebrated, not decried and leave us wanting for more.

If Jason Heyward had walked up to the plate in his first at bat, been 5'6" tall, dumped a solid single, and then stole second later in the inning, we'd almost certainly all be madly in love with him as a player right now and thanking the heavens that we found him amidst all the glut of terribly marginal, once promising outfielders out there.  My contention is that even though that didn't happen, and even though Heyward is 6'5" instead of 5'6", we still should be madly in love with him.