When a player gets off to a hot start in April, lower figures in May and even June often go unnoticed. We get into out heads the idea that a player is having a good season, and we can look at the overall statistical line for the season and it reinforces what we are thinking, what we have known since the first few games of the season. A slump here or there does not materially affect our opinion, and for the most part we are not wrong. A hot start in April followed by a few slower months and a solid line overall are probably an indication that the player is pretty good, especially when that line conforms to a prior track record and expectations coming into the season.
Get off to a slow start in April, though, and increased scrutiny follows the statistical line all season. It is the strikeouts and weak grounders that stick out in our minds, not the hits or the line drives or deep flies that go for outs. Add in getting traded in the offseason, just 25 years old, one year from free agency, and articles written about deserving a $200 million contract, there might be those who wonder just how valuable Jason Heyward is and if maybe he is not the player he has been or the player people expect him to be. No matter the expectations, judging Jason Heyward or calling for his benching to receive more time off based on one month of statistics and observation is using poor judgment.
In 101 plate appearances, Jason Heyward's line on the season is .223/.277/.340 with a wRC+ of 75. Those are not good numbers, but his FanGraphs Depth Charts projections for the season are still .265/.343/.423 with a wRC+ of 117. So what does he need to get to those numbers? If two of his fly balls had been home runs, if two more of his line drives had fallen for singles, and he had worked just two more walks all spread out over the first four weeks of the season, his statistical line would have been exactly at his current rest of the season projections. He is hitting more ground balls and fewer fly balls, but we are taking about the difference between a dozen batted balls at this point. More evidence of the quirky nature of early-season stats: Heyward's wRC+ against lefties so far is 146 and against righties it is just 48.
Many very good players get off to slow starts statistically, and then rebound exactly as we would expect them to. Looking at April 2014, I scanned the list of players who had a wRC+ between 60 and 85 and picked out young, proven players like Heyward. This analysis is not predictive, and I readily admit that I cherry-picked these players for this particular exercise, but these are the players that stuck out to me. Here are their stat lines from May through the rest of the season last year.
All of these players struggled last April. Many probably said they looked lost or that they needed time off or the pressure of impending free agency was getting to them. Every player on this list, including Jason Heyward, rebounded from the slow start and went on to have a very good year. In just another round of things I can't believe about Jason Heyward's age, he is younger than Starling Marte.
When it comes to advocating on waiting for a player to start hitting like their projections, I probably beat this drum harder than most, and sometimes I am wrong. It took until July last season before I was willing to admit that Allen Craig might not make it back to the hitter he was in 2014. However, the frequency which I turn out to be wrong is much lower simply by expecting a regression to the projections. Last year Kolten Wong was slumping and "looked lost" at the plate, and Matt Holliday could not hit for power. Those players turned out fine.
Maybe two weeks ago, there were some saying Wong was off to a slow start and maybe was not going to be as good as we hoped. He was hitting .219/.308/.281 with a wRC+ of 62 a couple weeks ago. He's hitting .303/.347/.438 with a wRC+ of 115 now. Maybe a week ago, there were those saying Matt Adams needs to be benched, and that he just is not going to hit well enough to be an everyday first baseman. He was hitting .232/.283/.357 with a wRC+ of 77 about a week ago. He's hitting .309/.337/.469 with a wRC+ of 123 now. Give Heyward some time as well. He is with a new team that has asked him to take a more aggressive approach to hitting. Heyward has earned the benefit of the doubt, and the 25-year old's numbers should be much better moving forward.