Sunday was the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the first of summer. It's fitting that St. Louis Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward pushed his batting production over the league-average mark with a three-hit performance against the Phillies. It's been a long, hard climb, but Heyward's stats have emerged from the crater that was his slow start to the season.
Today we're going to take a look at the path Heyward's stats took to reaching their current totals. I used the game logs at Baseball Reference to put together a chart for the right fielder's batting average (BA), on-base percentage (OBP), slugging percentage (SLG), and on-base plus slugging (OPS). There are four lines for each chart. Blue is the running total for each stat. Red is the June 21 season-long total for each stat. Yellow is Heyward's career mark for each stat. Green is the 2015 ZiPS preseason projection for each stat. (For the ZiPS preseason OPS, I added the projected OBP and SLG.)
Batting Average (BA)
Heyward owned a .216 average when the calendar turned from April to May. Relatedly, Heyward had also posted a .250 BABIP. From May 1 through June 21, Heyward has hit for a .313 BA, thanks in no small part to a .353 BABIP. Heyward's down-and-up BA to date is a good example of the vagaries of batted-ball luck. Heyward will likely not maintain either that BABIP or BA moving forward—they'll both probably drop. Given his peripherals to date this year, that makes one wonder about his OBP.
On-Base Percentage (OBP)
More than at any other time in Heyward's career, his OBP is tied to his BA. Heyward's career walk rate is 10.7%. For a point of comparison, Matt Holliday has posted a career 10.0 BB%. Heyward's walk rate has fallen to 5.7% so far in 2015. And his OBP has suffered because of it. That's not good. Hopefully we see an upward trend in walks as the season moves along. ZiPS is heartening in this regard, forecasting a 9.0% walk rate the rest of the way. So are his peripherals, which a preseason theory tied to his slugging.
Slugging Percentage (SLG)
Entering the season, the Cardinals talked about how moving Heyward out of the lead-off spot would result in him taking fewer pitches and hitting for more power. Heyward's Isolated Power (ISO) has gone up from .113 a year ago to .150 in 2015. So the SLG increase is not merely attributable to an increase in BA, though that is a part of it. Heyward has indeed hit for more power, but not because he's being more aggressive. Heyward saw 3.93 pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) in 2014, when he dug in most of the time as a lead-off hitter. This year, Heyward has a 3.90 P/PA. So virtually no change. Moreover, Heyward is swinging 43.6% of the time in 2015 compared to 43.8% in 2014. Hopefully these stats also mean that a return to something approximating the walk rate of year ago and his career is attainable without much of a change in approach.
On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS)
There are problems with OPS as a stat. Its valuation of power-hitting vs. reaching base safely is out of whack. With OPS, one point of SLG is equal to one point of OBP. That's skewed. In reality, one point of OBP is worth about 1.7 points of SLG. But Baseball Reference's game logs don't have wOBA and Fangraphs' game logs don't have a running stat total by game. So here we are, with this somewhat flawed track of Heyward's batting line so far this year.
While it's not perfect, OPS nonetheless captures the big picture climb Heyward's offensive line has undergone since his putrid April. On May 1, Heyward owned a .217/.261/.349 slash line which equaled a .611 OPS. From May 1 onward, Heyward has slashed .313/.352/.473, for an .825 OPS. Since June 1, Heyward has OPS'd .885 on the strength of a .355/.369/.516 slash line.
SBN and FanDuel have entered into an exclusive partnership for daily fantasy baseball. After watching the Phillies weekend, how could you not seek out those pitchers starting against them for FanDuel purposes. Sure, they scored five runs on Michael Wacha on Sunday. That makes me feel all the better about Michael Pineda against them today. Even with the DH, what are the odds that Philly manages to plate five runs in consecutive games with that roster? You can play FanDuel by clicking here.