It’s been nearly two weeks since I posted my last Pod Projection after the journey to estimate/project HR/FB ratio took over my life. Surprisingly, Jason Heyward tallied nary a vote when I first asked you readers who you wanted me to publish a projection breakdown for next. Instead, fellow RotoGrapher Howard Bender requested Heyward, while kickin’ rocks of course. Big things were expected of Heyward as a rookie and big things are still expected. As such, I thought he was a hitter more than worthy of a statistical dissection.
Heyward is expected to move up to second in the batting order, after jumping around in the lineup last season. That normally should lead to a higher at-bat projection than the previous season, but Heyward hasn’t exactly been the most iron of men. So 575 it is to hedge against the prospect of some missed time due to various nicks and bruises.
Contact Rate: 76% (a reminder, this is [at-bats – strikeouts] / at-bats, which differs from FG’s K%)
Heyward posted a 74% contact rate last year, 77% in 2011 and 75% during his rookie 2010 season. He made much better contact in his minor league days, posting rates in the mid-to-high 80% range. Hitters usually do see their contact rates slip a bit upon the move to the Majors, but the decline isn’t typically this dramatic. It’s possible that contact skill suddenly reemerges sometime in the future.
In his first two seasons, one of the big knocks on Heyward was that he didn’t hit enough fly balls to be an elite power hitter. He was never going to reach the 30 home run plateau, much less the 40 bomb level some thought he would peak at, by killing worms so frequently. But then 2012 came along and his fly ball rate jumped for the second straight year. It’s still too low to think a 40 home run season ever has a chance of happening, but at least he now has the potential to be a consistent 30 homer threat.
Although Heyward’s career IFFB% is relatively high, we could probably throw out his inflated 2011 mark as he was dealing with shoulder issues which likely played a role. So we’re now left with a hitter who hits fewer pop-ups than average, records more ground balls than flies and has excellent power and speed. Sounds like a recipe for a good, but not great, BABIP, which is slightly higher than his career mark, again, dragged down by the injury riddled 2011.
HR/FB Ratio: 18%
This is where Heyward fan club members look first. His career high currently stands at about 17%, so this projection would set a new one. Heyward is still just 23, so we know that his power should still be on the rise. Although his average home run plus fly ball distance has actually been in decline since his rookie season, it still sits at 290 feet, which is rather strong, though not quite at the 300+ level where the distance leaders stand. I am as against the concept of using gut feeling as part of a projection as there is. However, Heyward’s size and early scouting reports just lead me to believe he should be showing even more power than he has.
RBI and Runs: 80 and 100
It’s hard to knock in runs when you’re hitting second and assumed lead-off hitter at the moment, Andrelton Simmons, is not going to have a pretty OBP. So unless Heyward gets dropped in the order at some point during the season, it’s going to be difficult to exceed this projection. The runs scored projection is somewhat of a question mark. Heyward’s walk rate has declined significantly since his rookie season, so we cannot be totally sure what kind of OBP he is going to post. If his walk rate does rebound and he stays healthy, he’s actually a nice candidate to lead the league in runs scored.
Base stealers the size of Heyward scare me. You don’t know when it’s going to happen, but you do know that one year they will suddenly curb their running game and the speed won’t return. I am obviously not projecting that already; however, given his mediocre career success rate (just 72%), and the fact that he had stolen 20 bases in his previous 1,079 plate appearances, I have to assume some regression.
Below is my final projected batting line, along with Bill James and Fans projections for comparison.
As usual with my hitter projections, we are all projecting similar production with no major breakout. For those curious, given my projected combination of fly ball and contact rates, Heyward would need a 19% HR/FB ratio for 30 homers, 22% for 35 homers and 25.5% for 40 homers. The good news is that those marks aren’t outlandish, but of course he hasn’t shown that type of ability just yet. That said, I don’t think it would shock anyone if he completely explodes this season.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.