Where singles go looking for love. Or celebration of their singleness I suppose.
So let’s talk about Jason Heyward. I have to confess, he’s one of my all-time favorite players. I’ve followed him from his first at-bat jack until now. I probably have 25 of his baseball cards. I definitely have his Braves’ bobblehead. I like the dude.
Last time out, we talked about his replacement in Atlanta, Nick Markakis, and the fact that he’s built an All-Star resume this year based off of his ability to hit singles. However, prior to this season, even during Heyward’s struggles in Chicago, most Braves’ fans seemed to ignore Nick and conjure up ways that the Braves could bring Heyward back.
I confess, I did it as well. Heyward plays one of the better right fields baseball has ever seen. He had a 20 home run/20 steal season (at 6’5″!) He had the patience to draw 93 walks one year. As a prospect, as a young player, his overall package of tools was tantalizing. He was so easy to dream on.
In fact, Heyward was so easy to dream on that people painted him as a star. In several seasons, his WAR was star-level. However people missed the obvious: Heyward was a star not because he had tantalizing power (he did) or incredible speed for a guy his size (he did) or patience (he did). No, Heyward was a star because he was a remarkably gifted defensive outfielder who was able to tap into his power, speed and patience at the plate JUST enough to thrive.
And somewhere along the way, he got hit in the face by a fastball. And he changed his stance. And he lowered his hands. And he messed with his mechanics. And he went from being a tremendous asset to being a gifted defender who still played because of his glove, but sat every time offense was at a premium because he seemed so lost at the plate.
Then came 2018 against the Cardinals. He jumped at the wall to try and save a home run and hit his head, got diagnosed with a concussion, and went on the DL. When he came off the DL, he had a good game or two, followed by several stinkers. On May 25, his batting average bottomed out at .220. It seemed the dream was dead for good.
Except it’s now the morning of June 12th, and Heyward is hitting .281/.339/.421. According to Fangraphs wRC+ that places him roughly 6% better than league average.
Since that night on May 25th, Heyward has gone 24-64 at the plate. That’s a .375 batting average. There’s been some power in there for sure(6 2b, 1 3b, 1 hr – a walk-off grand slam!). But there have also been some singles.
16 singles to be precise.
Because singles are how you go from being below average to being good again. Singles are what happen when you don’t overreach, you don’t over-swing, you just sit back, see what the pitcher is throwing, and you put it in play.
Singles are how you tie the game off a tough lefty relief ace like Josh Hader. Singles are how drive in that runner on 3b with two outs. And singles, in Mr. Heyward’s case, are how you become productive enough to play, to let your glove and total talent package shine.