On August 21, 2013, the Atlanta Braves squared off against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Lefty Jon Niese started for the Mets. Jason Heyward, who batted leadoff for the Braves that day, dug in against Niese with two outs in the top of the sixth and the Mets ahead 1-0. With Niese ahead 1-2 in the count, New York catcher John Buck called for a fastball on the inside corner. Niese threw the 90-mph heater Buck requested but missed his location badly, hitting Heyward in the face with the pitch.
At MLB.com, Mark Bowman and Chris Iseman reported on the beanball:
"It was tough. I wanted to elevate a fastball right there, and then it didn't really slip out of my hands, but it kind of just ran in on him," Niese said. "Obviously no intent, but I just felt bad. It's every pitcher and every hitter's worst nightmare. I just hope he's OK."
After a few minutes, Heyward stood up and walked off the field with Porter holding his arm. Schafer pinch-ran for Heyward, who was spitting blood as he went toward the dugout.
"He never lost consciousness," Gonzalez said. "He was talking the whole time when he got hit with the ball. Before they took him to the hospital, he popped his head into the dugout and said 'bye' to some of the guys. I got a chance to talk to him briefly after that."
Here is the video of the pitch and its aftermath. If you're squeamish, you may not want to watch it.
If you choose to watch the video, you can see that the fastball struck Hewyard in jaw, which fractured it. Heyward's broken jaw required corrective surgery. He missed 26 games during a 29-day stint on the disabled list due to the injury, surgery, and recovery. Heyward returned to the field in late September, playing in nine games before the season's end.
Last month, ESPN's Mark Simon (who is a good Twitter follow) was a guest on KTRG to discuss the Hot Stove moves that the Cardinals and Royals had made. Naturally, Simon discussed the Cards' acquisition of Heyward. Producer Brandon Kiley tweeted a quote and paraphrase of Simon's assessment:
Despite that, @msimonespn says he is high on the Heyward trade. Thinks Heyward will help the Cards.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) December 16, 2014
For those interested, you can listen to a podcast with Simon's appearance here. Simon's assertion relayed by Kiley's first tweet—that Heyward hasn't handled inside pitches well since being beaned—piqued my curiosity.
Using the wonderful Brooks Baseball heat maps, we can get a visual representation of how Heyward has fared on inside pitching since suffering a broken jaw by beanball. Answering this question will likely depend on how one defines "handle." I'm going to give you a few options by using batting average (BA) as a reflection of contact skill, Isolated Power (ISO) as a proxy for quality of contact, Swing Rate as a measure of aggressiveness, and Wiff Per Swing rate as another measure of contact skill.
Batting Average vs. All Pitchers
Keep in mind that the color-coding for Brooks Baseball heat maps is comparative to the individual player. His best hitting relative to how he hits in other quadrants of the strike zone will be dark red and his worst blue. This means that a player might hit .300 in a zone and have it be blue because he hits for a higher BA than that in every other area. Likewise, a player might be so bad at hitting that his highest BA in any quadrant is .250, which means that it might be red because his other averages are sufficiently lower than that.
From Heyward's MLB debut through August 21, 2013, the day of his beaning, here is Heyward's BA strike zone heat map against all pitchers.
Heyward thrived on low pitches from the time of his big-league debut to the day of his beaning. What's more, Heyward's struggles up and in tell us why Buck called for Niese to throw a fastball up and in on that fateful day.
How does Heyward's BA heat map pre-beaning compare to the one for the at-bats he's taken post-beaning? The following heat map covers Heyward's BA since his return from the DL.
First, a caveat. This heat map covers far fewer at-bats than the previous one, only about a season's worth. As an example, Heyward had 127 at-bats end with a pitch down and in within the strike zone over the span of his first four seasons. Last season, Heyward had 48 at-bats end with a pitch in that same down-and-in quadrant. This makes the numbers more volatile. I don't like to give a player credit for something he didn't do—the being said, if Heyward had three more hits on down-and-in pitches during this time frame, his BA on such offerings would have been .333, which would be roughly on par (slightly better, in point of fact) than his BA over the years preceding the beaning. We should consider the charts with this in mind while noting that Heyward has hit for a higher BA on pitches middle-away since the beaning than balls on the inner one-third of the plate and for a lower BA on pitches in since his return from the beaning than before it.
Isolated Power vs. All Pitchers
ISO is a stat that only measures extra base hits. Whereas the older stat of Slugging Percentage (SLG) includes singles, doubles, triples, and homers, ISO only considers doubles, triples, and homers. In my view, this makes ISO a better proxy for a player's power-hitting than SLG (though SLG is perhaps a better gauge of a player's overall batting performance). For this exercise, we're going to use ISO as a proxy for quality of contact.
The following Brooks Baseball heat map shows Heyward's ISO from his rookie year through August 21, 2013.
The following heat map shows Heyward's ISO from August 22, 2013, to the end of last season.
The ISO heat map reflects the fuzziness of discussing how a batter "handles" inside pitching. Heyward's BA on inside pitches has dropped a bit since the beaning; however, due to the small sample of at-bats, not by so much as to cause alarm or any sort of firm conviction that he is in fact struggling more with inside pitching. On pitches in the zone, by ISO:
- Heyward has handled inside pitches that are down and in better than he did prior to the beaning.
- On middle-in pitches, Heyward resulted in less power production.
- He's hit for more power on up-and-in offerings.
To be sure, the same small-sample-size grain of salt should be ingested with Heyward's ISO heat maps as his BA heat maps, but there's not much here to suggest that Heyward has had all that much more trouble hitting for power on inside pitches than he did before suffering a broken jaw by beanball.
Swing Rate vs. All Pitchers
BA and ISO focus on results. But what about process? Is Heyward being more tentative against inside pitches since Niese's fastball struck him in the face? Brooks Baseball allows us to take a look at this, too. As a reflection of aggressiveness, I'm going to use swing rate, a stat that represents exactly what its name suggests: how often a player swings at offerings.
The following heat map shows Heyward's swing rate by quadrant in his plate appearances before the beaning on August 21, 2013.
As you can see, Heyward was a bit more aggressive on pitches middle-in than pitches away before getting beaned. But there's nothing all that dramatic about this heat map.
This heat map shows Heyward's swing rates post-beanball.
Heyward has been more aggressive on inside pitches—both on and off the plate—since being struck in the face by a pitch. This made wonder how successful his swings have been.
Whiffs Per Swing vs. All Pitchers
An introductory note on Whiffs versus Whiffs Per Swing versus Swinging Strike Percentage. Whiff rate reflects the percentage of pitches seen that a batter swings and misses at. Whiffs Per Swing, on the other hand, shows the share of pitches at which a player swings that he comes up empty on. Neither should be confused with Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) at Fangraphs, which is a measure of the percentage share of strikes—not overall pitches or pitches swung at—that a result from a swing and a miss.
The following heat map shows Heyward's Whiffs Per Swing before the beaning.
This heat map reflects Heyward's Whiffs Per Swing since returning from the DL after surgery on his broken jaw.
By Whiffs Per Swing, Heyward has not struggled more with inside pitches after being beaned than before, in terms of coming up empty when deciding to swing at them.
What has this exercise shown?
- Heyward has swung at inside pitches more often post- than pre-beaning.
- Heyward has whiffed less often when swinging at inside pitches since Niese beaned him than before.
- Heyward's BA against inside pitches is lower since he returned from the DL after the hit by pitch than before.
- Heyward's ISO has both increased and decreased on inside pitches, depending on the quadrant, and the overall effect is that he's probably hit for about the same amount of power on inside pitches pre- and post-beanball.