Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward has mashed three home runs in his last four games, a feat that would have been unthinkable during his miserable 2016 season.
It’s early, but it looks like this is shaping up to be something of a comeback season for Heyward, whose flailing performance last year often drew the ire of fans who felt their team had overpaid for the formerly solid outfielder. The Cubs played him in all but 20 games last year, ostensibly because his defense (for which he won a Gold Glove) somewhat counteracted his .230/.306/.325 line.
Watching a guy as talented as Heyward slug .325 over a full season was remarkably depressing, which is why it’s nice to see him hitting .294/.342/.456 over 68 at-bats this year. And there’s a good chance this isn’t just an early-season fluke.
During the offseason, Heyward totally remade his swing, a massive undertaking that saw him having to unlearn everything he thought he knew about hitting and replace it with brand new muscle memory.
Ken Rosenthal wrote about the effort, describing the biggest change as such:
No longer would Heyward twist his top hand and wrap the bat around his shoulder. His bat angle would be more vertical, removing the tension from his shoulders. He would lower his hands to be in a more relaxed position and move his lower half first, allowing his hands to work.
The particulars are interesting, but the results are even better:
That’s the homer Heyward cracked against the Pirates last night, and it was the kind of hard-hit ball we almost never saw from him last season. Ditto for Saturday’s tater in Cincinnati:
Last season Heyward hit seven dingers total, and although home runs don’t tell you everything, there’s some useful data to be gleaned from his power numbers. According to ESPN’s home run tracker, the average exit velocity of Heyward’s seven 2016 home runs was 99.7 mph, and their average true distance was 382 feet. Meanwhile, the three homers he’s hit this year have true distances of 404, 403, and 433 feet, and have left the bat at 106, 103.6 and 110.4 mph.
Heyward is hitting the ball much harder than he was in 2016 in general. If you look at his average exit velocity from last season, you’ll notice he was hitting for pretty weak contact—something we all saw with our eyes, of course:
But this season he’s having better luck:
Small sample size and all that, but given the fact that Heyward entered this season with a brand new swing, there’s reason to be optimistic that there’s something more than a good streak of luck behind this surge. It seems almost unfair for a stacked Cubs team coming off a World Series win to be gifted a newly competent Jason Heyward, but I suppose $28 million should buy you something.