Chicago Cubs: It’s not a hot streak, Jason Heyward is good again

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 17: Jason Heyward
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 17: Jason Heyward /

Jason Heyward has been hitting as well as anyone in the Chicago Cubs lineup in 2018. Cubs fans anxiously waited for regression that apparently isn’t coming.

Jason Heyward’s resurgence with the Chicago Cubs came under peculiar circumstances. On May 8th, Heyward was concussed after attempting to catch a 14th inning walk off homerun off the bat of Dexter Fowler. At that point in the season, Heyward was slashing .200/.302/.289. Since his return, he’s been playing out of his mind.

He’s slashing .295/.349/.451 in that stretch. His wRC+ is 115 and he’s only striking out 11% of the time.

To recap: Heyward was hitting .200, got concussed and subsequently returned as a player hitting almost .300. It’s like a 90’s sitcom plot; Heyward got bonked in the head and suddenly remembered how to play baseball.

And finally, after a month and a half at this level of production, we can finally say it: Jason Heyward is good. He’s been the best hitter on the Cubs.

The Butterfield factor

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After unceremoniously being booted by the Dodgers in the 2018 NLCS, the Cubs rebuilt their coaching staff. That included hiring hitting coach Brian Butterfield. The Cubs offense has been significantly different this year than it has been in years past, and it’s likely in part because of Butterfield.

The Cubs are hitting fewer homeruns under Butterfield, but they’re still getting runs. Heyward has never been much of a power hitter, so perhaps something about Butterfield’s philosophy lends itself favorably to Heyward’s approach.

Similar to how Chris Bosio made an ace out of a mediocre Jake Arrieta, Butterfield may have made Heyward his “project”. No hitter needed more work on the Cubs than Heyward did this offseason, so it’s likely Butterfield focused his attention there.

A look at the numbers

A 2016 Jason Heyward at bat was nearly as predictable as 2018 Tyler Chatwood walking a hitter. Heyward would smack a pathetic dribbler for a groundout to the second baseman. In his best career years, he was able to push the ball the opposite way more often. That’s what’s been working for him in 2018, too.

His pull percentage has dropped from 46.3% to 41.8%. His opposite percentage has climbed from 19.8% to 26.0%. Heyward’s hard contact percentage climbed over eight percentage points as well.

The next piece of the puzzle comes from the eye test. Heyward is standing off the plate just a little bit further. Those balls that were popping up on the skinny part of his bat in 2016 are more often finding the barrel now.

Next: Detroit Tigers: Victor Martinez struggling in (likely) final season

Whatever the cause may be, Jason Heyward is finally the player the Cubs are paying for. There’s no reason to expect he’ll be slowing down anytime soon either.