Looking for J-Hey

December 14, 2015
 
Jason Heyward has signed an eight year contract to play for the Chicago Cubs. Looking forward, what can we expect from the newest addition to Wrigley?

One way to answer this question is to ask what players are the most comparable to Jason Heyward at this point in his career, and see how those players did for the next eight years of their careers.
 
Jason Heyward is a multi-dimensional player. His most notable asset is his defense, which has netted him three (very deserved) Gold Glove Awards as a right fielder. He has tremendous range as a defender, and an arm good enough to have twice led the position in assists. He is a smart baserunner, having stolen 43 bags in 50 attempts (easy math: 86% success rate). He has a career OPS+ of 114, and a wRC+ of 118….both metrics agree that as a hitter Heyward is comfortably above average.
 
The hitting is where people get a little hung up on Heyward. As a 20-year old rookie, Heyward broke into the majors as a star, posting a .277/.393/.456 triple-slash line, with eighteen homers and 91 walks. In five subsequent seasons, Heyward hasn’t really matched those early numbers: his strikeout-to-walk rate jumped (a bad thing), and though he topped 27 homers in 2012, he hasn’t hit more than fourteen in any other year. As a hitter, there is a sense that he has plateaued. As a 20-year old, he looked like a future MVP. That season hasn’t come yet.
 
Which isn’t to say that Heyward hasn’t been very good. Over the last four seasons, Heyward ranks behind only Trout, McCutchen, Donaldson, Posey, Miggy, and Beltre in fWAR. Win Shares is a little less bullish on Heyward, crediting him with 22, 14, 23, and 21 Win Shares over those four seasons.
 
The other factor is Heyward’s age: because he reached the majors as a twenty-year old, and because he didn’t sign a pre-free agency extension with the Braves or Cardinals, he is hitting free agency as he approaches what should be the peak years of his career. He has more upside than post-30 players like Robinson Cane or David Price, and there is less risk that the late years on his contract will be a significant burden to the Cubs.  
 
So let’s find comparables. How do we do that?
 
What I didn’t do is use the list of players on Baseball-Reference. I love everything about Baseball-Reference, and I think their Similarity Scores are interesting, but a lot of the players they list as comparables to Jason Heyward don’t pass the smell test for me.
 
One of Jason Heyward’s BB-Ref comparables is Jack Clark. I remember Jack Clark: on the best day of his life Jack Clark wasn’t anything like Jason Heyward. Both are good players, but they’re not similar.
 
Barry Bonds shows up as a comparable. Barry is a better comparable than Jack Clark, of course: both he and Heyward are athletic and fast player and exceptional defensive corner outfielders. But Barry Bonds, at twenty-five, was coming off a season in which he hit 33 homers, stole 52 bases, won a Gold Glove, posted a WAR around 10.0, and collected 23 of 24 first-place votes for the NL MVP. Jason Heyward was very good last year, but he wasn’t that good.
 
Putting it another way: if I used Barry Bonds as a comparable to Jason Heyward’s next eight years, I would be using a player whose average season was a .306/37/110, with 34 steals and an on-base percentage of .442. That would prejudice the results. Barry is too good. He’s out.
 
Here’s what I did: I started with a big spreadsheet of names and whittled it down until I got a smaller one.
 
I started with outfielders, Age-14 to Age-25. Heyward just finished his Age-25 season.
 
I set the search years for 1901 to 2015. I didn’t want Harry Stovey or George Gore to show up as comparables, because I don’t know that they can be, really. Does a Harry Stovey home run really compare to a Jason Heyward home run, or have all of the changes between baseball in 1890 and baseball in 2015 make a comparison between Stovey and Heyward a little unreasonable?
 
Next step: playing time. Jason Heyward has tallied 3400 plate appearances in the majors…so I put a limit of 2000 plate appearances.
 
I wanted to find players who were about as valuable as Heyward, so I figured out everyone’s fWAR/162 games. FanGraphs calculates that Heyward has been worth about 5.4 WAR/162 games, so I cut out everyone above 7.0 (Ted and Mickey are out. So is Mike Trout.) Then I cut out anyone under 4.0 WAR.
 
Jason Heyward is a good defensive outfielder, so I cut out anyone left who rated as bad defensive outfielders. This was useful because it meant cutting out a lot of players who were much better hitters than Heyward, but gave some of it back on defense. Say-o-nara, Jack Clark.
 
I also cut Andruw Jones.
 
Why did I cut Andruw Jones?
 
FanGraphs credits Jason Heyward with 61.9 Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF). This is very good for an outfielder: as a defensive player Jason Heyward is right in line with players like Al Kaline and Ken Griffey Jr. He is ahead of Dwight Evans and Roberto Clemente.
 
Heyward is at 61.4. He is actually 7th on the list, through his Age-25 season. Keeping in mind that DEF is a cumulative metric, not a rate metric.
 
Willie Davis is at 84.1 He is 2nd on the list.
 
Andruw Jones is at 174.9.
 
Andruw Jones, as a defensive player, is in his own orbit, at least by the system that FanGraphs uses. And it’s not like other systems don’t agree: Baseball-Reference has Jones as the best defensive outfielder, by a similarly wide margin. And I’ve never heard an observer of Jones’ career who thought his early defense needed work.
 
So Jones is out, for being too ridiculously good at defense for him to be a useful comparable for Jason Heyward.
 
I kept winnowing. I won’t bore you with the details of where I made cuts, but I will say that the process was utterly blind: I didn’t look at the names at all until it was down to ten.
 
I looked at slugging percentage and home run totals, and cut the guys who hit a ton of dingers. Jason Heyward might become a power hitter, but he isn’t really a power hitter now. There’s no reason to compare him to Jose Canseco. He’s not anything like Jose Canseco.
 
I filtered by strikeout rate and walk rate. I looked at wRC+ (Adjusted Weighted Runs Created) and slugging percentage and on-base. I looked at total stolen bases, and cut some of the burners off…Willie Wilson or Carl Crawford. Rickey got knocked off somewhere, just because I thought that comparing anyone to Rickey Henderson was ridiculous.
 
I intended to get a list of ten comparable players….ten plus Jason Heyward. I did that, and crunched all the ‘before’ numbers and all of the ‘after’ numbers.
 
Then I hit a problem: one of the players is a contemporary of Jason Heyward: he didn’t have enough ‘after’ to qualify. We couldn’t use him to project Heyward’s future, because he is still putting up his future.
 
You can guess in the comments who that tenth player is. First one to guess it wins…nothing, actually. There’s no prize. Just the respect and admiration of your peers.
 
So I ended up with a list of nine comparable players. Here they are, with their counting stats adjusted to 162 games played:
 
Name
G
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
WAR
Reggie Smith
609
94
169
20
79
60
15
.279
.344
.457
4.8
Johnny Callison
780
91
160
21
76
57
7
.276
.343
.467
4.3
Jimmy Wynn
557
88
151
25
83
74
24
.254
.336
.444
4.0
Jason Heyward
835
87
156
19
68
72
17
.268
.353
.431
5.4
Grady Sizemore
682
114
179
26
83
81
28
.279
.370
.491
6.7
Ellis Burks
526
107
187
22
93
58
25
.291
.350
.470
4.4
Duke Snider
685
98
177
26
99
58
13
.293
.356
.497
4.4
Chet Lemon
691
83
165
15
70
58
9
.286
.360
.445
4.4
Carlos Beltran
585
109
184
23
101
57
30
.283
.341
.469
4.3
Carl Yastrzemski
743
91
185
17
83
78
7
.296
.374
.464
4.4
 
All of the counting stats are adjusted to 162 games played, to give a better picture of how they compare to one another.
 
Going a little more advanced: all of them rate as solid-to-good defensive outfielders, except for Jimmy Wynn. All are either positive (Sizemore, Beltran, Wynn, Snider) or neutral on the bases.
 
Everyone has 20-HR power. Everyone walks, but not that much…there’s no Eddie Yost isn’t on our list.  The range of on-base percentages is between .336 and .374, with Heyward right in the middle. The range of slugging percentages is from .431 to .469….our man is taking up the rear on that one.
 
What I like about this list is that all of these players seem like good fits…they pass the smell test. Ellis Burks is a lot like Jason Heyward: athletic, fast, 20-homer power. If you watched Ellis Burks as a young player, and watched Jason Heyward twenty years later, you mightdraw a connection between the two of them. This Heyward kid reminds me of a young Ellis Burks.
 
And there’s a nice range of abilities. Burks wasn’t as good a fielder as Heyward, but he was faster, and could handle center. Beltran, as a young player, was a lot faster than Heyward, but he wasn’t as patient a hitter. Snider had more power as a young player than we can credit Heyward with.
 
I know less about Johnny Callison than any of these other players…less by far, actually. Callison was a good hitter for the Phillies, he came up young (like Heyward), and had his best years in his mid-twenties. A good defensive outfielders in his prime, talented enough to show up on the MVP ballots four years in a row, including a 2nd-place finish in 1964 (Ken Boyer).
 
It’s worth noting that Jason Heyward does much better by fWAR than the other candidates on the list….all except Sizemore. I think that’s a useful ‘check’: we’re generating a list of players who, at least by one metric, are a bit worse than Heyward. We’re not stacking the deck with players are decidedly better than Heyward, so we’re not generating a list of best-possible-scenario comparables.
 
And it’s not really focused on WAR. I used WAR as an early way to winnow down the pack, and then I ignored it. I narrowed the list by looking at the remaining players through a varying sequence of metrics because I didn’t want to use WAR as the default measure of these players. I like WAR, but I didn’t want a list purely created by that metric.
 
So that’s how we got our list. Let’s see how they did for ages twenty-six through thirty-three:
 
Name
G
R
H
HR
RBI
BB
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
WAR
C.Yastrzemski
1226
97
167
28
95
106
12
.289
.397
.491
6.8
Carlos Beltran
1041
111
171
31
108
86
28
.281
.369
.509
6.1
Chet Lemon
1066
81
150
21
77
62
2
.270
.354
.457
4.9
Duke Snider
1073
109
171
39
116
88
6
.307
.400
.594
6.3
Ellis Burks
904
98
165
28
93
62
14
.289
.361
.517
3.1
G. Sizemore
419
70
133
15
65
54
10
.238
.309
.393
0.2
Jimmy Wynn
1149
100
144
26
84
114
17
.257
.382
.450
5.3
Johnny Callison
1061
73
147
19
71
57
6
.258
.327
.429
2.3
Reggie Smith
1071
95
169
29
97
82
10
.291
.377
.511
5.6
 
Again, I’ve put up their numbers into per-162 game averages. As you’d expect, this group of players saw an uptick in their power (jumping from 22 to 27 homers per 162 games), and a parallel decline in speed (from 17 to 12 steals per 162 games). As a group, they saw a spike in walks, from 65 walks per 162 games to 82 walks.
 
The overall WAR of the group increased a tick, from 4.7 to 4.9 per 162 games. Saying that there is only a slight uptick in the performance of these players, however, is underselling the group:
 
Name
WAR/162 Thru Age 25
WAR/162, Age 26-33
Change
Carl Yastrzemski
4.4
6.8
+2.4
Duke Snider
4.4
6.3
+1.9
Carlos Beltran
4.3
6.1
+1.8
Jimmy Wynn
4.0
5.3
+1.3
Reggie Smith
4.8
5.6
+0.8
Chet Lemon
4.4
4.9
+0.5
Ellis Burks
4.4
3.1
-1.3
Johnny Callison
4.3
2.3
-2.0
Grady Sizemore
6.7
0.2
-6.5
 
Most of these players improved a lot. Yaz, Duke, and Beltran each improved by about two wins per season, a big jump in performance. They went from good players to Hall-of-Fame candidates, essentially.
 
Jimmy Wynn, Reggie Smith, and Chet Lemon also improved, though not as drastically as the first three guys on the table. In the case of Wynn and Smith, they built careers that at least merit consideration for enshrinement. Wynn and Smith aren’t in, but a lot of folks think they should be.  
 
Ellis Burks and Johnny Callison didn’t improve: their performance declined, though they were still effective major league players.
 
And there is Grady Sizemore. Sizemore didn’t just rate as the best player in the group thru his Age-25 season: he was way out ahead of the pack. He was on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory:
 
Player
WAR/162, Thru Age 25
M. Schmidt
6.8
Cal Ripken
6.8
K. Griffey Jr.
6.8
Johnny Mize
6.7
G. Sizemore
6.7
Hank Aaron
6.7
Mike Piazza
6.6
R. Henderson
6.6
 
I just wanted to throw that table up. Grady Sizemore was great. He was a great player. And then he fell off a cliff.
 
When we look for comparable to Jason Heyward, we’re trying to see what’s going to happen. We’re trying to find out what story could unfold over the next eight years.
 
These years could be the years when he makes his case for the Hall of Fame. Certainly, that’s what the Cubs hope for: they are hoping that Heyward takes the same leap forward that Yaz and Snider and Beltran took.  
 
It could happen that Heyward improves, but only by a little bit. The Cubs certainly wouldn’t be upset about that: Jason Heyward finished 15th in the NL MVP vote this year, which is nothing to sneeze at. If he posts a bunch of seasons where he produces the same value he did in 2015, the Cubbies aren’t going to regret the deal.
 
It could happen that he declines. And it could happen that a bunch of nagging injuries turn catastrophic, and his career joins Sizemore’s as one of the great ‘what-ifs’ in baseball lore.
 
I think that last one is unlikely. Heyward is an aggressive player, but he doesn’t seem to be the same kind of aggressive that Grady Sizemore was. He is not as physically reckless as Sizemore was…he is more controlled as an athlete.
 
Last year, I expressed optimism over the mammoth Giancarlo Stanton deal: players who can hit as well as Stanton generally maintain that ability for a long time. I liked that deal.
 
But I am more confident about this one: if you had asked me what a team would have had to pay to lock up Heyward’s next eight seasons, I would have guessed that the bid would start at $200 million. The Cubs signed him for $16 million less than that. Maybe I misjudged the market, and maybe Heyward took a bit less to play for a juggernaut of a team, one that is in a terrific position to end the longest-running championship drought in baseball. Whatever the reasons, the Cubs signed a terrific player who is probably going to get better. Good news for the North Siders.
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
    
 
 

COMMENTS (48 Comments, most recent shown first)

337
Which of those names screams out "highest paid player in MLB" to you? (I know, A-Rod and maybe somebody I'm forgetting make more money than Heyward will, but he's right at the top at the list.) Snider maybe, but he was the third-best CFer in NYC so how could he be the best player in MLB? Yaz, sure, for a year or two but then water found its own level. Beltran, maaaaaaybe, but only for a split-second and very arguably. Otherwise, no one really comes close. These players--Callison, Lemon, Wynn, Burks, etc--were odds-against to even make the All-Star team at their peaks. That's my problem with Heyward, not that he isn't a very good young player, but he's nowhere near the top 10 list in terms of performance right now, and I doubt ever will be. My problem is simply paying him out the wazoo for being only "very good." Some good teams have gotten killed doing that.
6:03 AM Dec 21st
 
evanecurb
I think this is one of the most interesting articles ever posted on this site. It will be very interesting to see how Heyward's (and McCuthen's) career plays out compared with the other guys on the list.

How does Paul Blair compare with these guys? Fred Lynn?
6:48 PM Dec 19th
 
OldBackstop
..pfftt...I didn't think McCutch matched up too well there.

I would bet that his Age 25 year was the best in that lot...31 home runs, .327 BA, 20 SBs led the league in hits with 194, 953 OPS, 7.00 WAR

Dave, I know you prorated counting stats to 162 games, but did you see an acceleration in performance there? Heyward has far more games played than any of your comps, and this year, his 700 games plus season, he set highs in WAR, BA, SBs.

Maybe it is like that 10,000 hour rule...
2:53 PM Dec 16th
 
MarisFan61
.....upon further review.....I should have realized, you probably just meant "through age 33" (as per one of those tables up there), which removes the seeming tautology.

BTW, we ought to note, it's pretty funny how you made sure to start your search for comp stats at age 14. :-)
2:00 PM Dec 16th
 
MarisFan61
(What kind of player doesn't maintain his ability through mid-career? :-)

I think that any type of player at all -- I mean as a group, which is what you're talking about too; obviously there are individual outliers of any type -- any type of player tends to maintain his ability through mid-career, and, more specifically, for a few years after age 25.
12:20 PM Dec 16th
 
DaveFleming
Bobby Bonds is yet another good comparable, and another positive looking forward: he was a terrific player between 25 and 33....his per-162 average was 31 homers and 43 stolen bases. About a five-win player according to WAR...

I think we can safely conclude that tall athletic outfielders who can run, hit, and field at an All-Star level have generally maintain that ability thru their mid-career.
12:07 PM Dec 16th
 
evanecurb
Great article, Dave. I completely missed the part about the tenth guy being contemporary. So I re-read, and there it is. So I withdraw my guess that it could have been Bobby Bonds.
8:11 AM Dec 16th
 
MarisFan61
Dave: I think the implication of what you're saying in that last paragraph is (isn't it?) that there is some inherent thing about how "Win Shares" and "WAR" respectively regard a player's offensive contribution that might make them value a player differently. I don't think there is.

My impression is that what you're talking about might cause a different division between the player's offensive and defensive credit. I have to say, the main reason I can't be sure is that I find those divisions in the "WAR" system so confusing, so ill-presented (granting that different sites present "WAR" differently), that I don't exactly understand what they're doing; I mean, I think that I know what they're doing, but it doesn't have any tangible grasp for me. My best guess is that the kind of difference you're talking about might be in the respective ways that the systems present the offensive and defensive credit for a player, but not a basic difference in the philosophy of what they're purporting to do, in assessing offense and defense and coming out with a total value; it doesn't inherently result in a different bottom line.

Indeed, as you say, Win Shares considers offense irrespective of position; a player's offensive credit is unrelated to what position he plays. (Isn't it nice when a system is so clear about this?) :-)
But, whatever 'extra credit' some might think a shortstop (for example) should get for making his offensive contribution while being a shortstop, that extra credit essentially appears in his defensive Win Shares; by dint of of being a shortstop, he tends to receive more defensive credit -- actually "responsibility," I think, which generally leads to more credit and more defensive win shares. "WAR" is usually presented as including a 'positional adjustment' in both the offensive part and the defensive part, which I think is a disaster and I keep saying this in the delusional hope that it'll help lead to a better presentation. But be that as it may, I doubt there's anything inherent in the two systems that should systematically lead to differing valuations of a player. I think that to whatever extent such differences occur, it's because of differing ways that some inner details are or aren't recognized by the two systems.
4:05 AM Dec 16th
 
Brock Hanke
I would think that Callison is the best match on your list, at least for raw stats. Callison played in the 1960s. He also got hurt very soon after the seasons on your list. That's why he seems to fall apart. He didn't get hurt enough to stop being a MLB player, but he did get hurt. I don't remember the exact injury.
2:11 AM Dec 16th
 
DaveFleming
A big gap is defense: Win Shares views McCutchen as a comparable defensive player to Heyward, whereas WAR rates Heyward's defensive contributions as great (seems right, from what I've seen) and McCutchen's as more neutral.

There's a lot of players like this. Bernie Williams is rated much better by Win Shares than WAR. Ben Zobrist is the opposite: WAR views him as an elite player, whereas Win Shares judges him as merely very good.

The defense is a part of it...what each system uses to judge a player's defensive contribution.

I think another part of it is that Win Shares considers offense irregardless of position, whereas WAR adjusts for position. That is, for Win Shares hitting .270 is hitting .270, regardless of whether the batter is a shortstop or a first baseman. For FanGraphs, hitting .270 as a shortstop is given a different value than hitting .270 as a 1B.
2:10 AM Dec 16th
 
MarisFan61
How Heyward and McCutchen compare on yearly WIN SHARES through age 25:
(McCutchen shows better on this than on "WAR")

Heyward . . McCutchen
23
11
22 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
23 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
21 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
11:53 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
More about McCutchen:
As good as Heyward is, I'm surprised he's ahead of McCutchen in "WAR" through his current age; I'm surprised he's not behind.

And in fact, looking further at McCutchen's baseball-ref page, I'm surprised he doesn't show better than he does. I mean, it's terrific. But I would have expected better.

Like: Look at his year-by-year #1 comps by age. It's very good list, but not a soaring list:
Ellis Burks
Reggie Smith
Ellis Burks
Carlos Beltran
Matt Kemp
Andre Dawson

.....and, his top 10 comps through his current age:
Andre Dawson
Matt Kemp
Reggie Smith
Billy Williams
Carlos Beltran
Vernon Wells
Dave Winfield
Shawn Green
Jack Clark
Gary Sheffield

I think of him as better than anyone on both of those lists except maybe Winfield, and at least as good as Winfield.
11:47 PM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
It IS McCutchen! Congrats, Daniel, for getting it.

I suspect that if I did it over again, I'd generate a slightly different list. McCutchen's triple-slash line is a good bit more impressive than Heyward's, but the distance in fielding and baserunning closes the gap.

Obviously, the Cubs will be very happy if Heyward turns into a younger version of their inter-division rival's best player.
11:46 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
DMB: I think you got it!

I had thought of him, but dismissed it because I thought his record was 'too good' to be one of Heyward's highest comps.
But, looking closer at his record through age 25, it's darn close -- and his average "WAR" per year was actually a little less than Heyward's, more than most of the other top comps but less than Heyward's.
11:39 PM Dec 15th
 
DMBBHF
Dave,

Is the mystery player Andrew McCutchen?
10:58 PM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
The active player isn't Fowler.

His WAR/162, thru Age-25, was exactly the same as Heyward's (5.4). A better hitter, but by FanGraphs count he rates as a slightly worse baserunner, and not nearly as good an outfielder. The mystery player has won a Gold Glove, for what its worth.
10:41 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
.......Fowler's another one who could work if he had enough plate appearances by that age, but he didn't.​
9:42 PM Dec 15th
 
jdrb
Seems like Dexter Fowler could be the comp
9:28 PM Dec 15th
 
doncoffin
I will add that BBRef's defensive metrics are not very kind to Callison.
9:06 PM Dec 15th
 
doncoffin
About Johnny Callison...I saw him when he played for the Indianapolis Indians. He was a terrific player there, and I always wondered why the White Sox gave up on him. At Philadelphia, in his age 22-25 seasons, his OPS+ were 110, 130, 140, 125. But he was done at age 34, after two unpleasant seasons with the Cubs (he apparently could not get along with Durocher) and two bad seasons with the Yankees. He's probably the best player I ever saw play for Indianapolis.
8:52 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
Thanks for the official 'gong' on that. :-)

OK: Jay Bruce?

BTW, I think Colby Rasmus would be a candidate, depending on what you consider his "age 25" season. If it's how baseball-ref does it, he's 26 PA's short. But you could just as easily count the next season too, and then....​
8:42 PM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
Not Granderson, though he's another interesting comparable. Didn't have enough playing time as a young player to qualify, and his k-rate would probably be a bit too high to match with Heyward.
8:28 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
(Not eligible -- didn't have nearly enough career plate appearances)
8:25 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I know it's unlikely to be him if we're talking only about entire career up to this age. But if we're looking at age-25 seasons....
8:15 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
If it's who I think it is, then I think his not having been mentioned is yet another sign of how underrated and relatively neglected he often is.

Years ago, I was struck how Tiger fans seemed to never mention him when talking about who their best player was, even though he was leading the team in Win Shares (for what that's worth), and even though his stat line was the kind of player that I love (I know that's worth little) :-) ......and even though it seemed every time I saw the Tigers playing the Yanks, he seemed to be the guy who made the team go. This past year, I was struck how long it took for Met fans and media people to start recognizing that he was having a terrific year, and that he was, by far, the team's best and most valuable player.

Curtis Granderson.

(Dave, please don't tell me he's wrong too.....) :-)
8:13 PM Dec 15th
 
ventboys
That's a good point Steve... I was just reading the postscript from the paperback version of Bill's NBJHA and he pointed out that - in a bull market - old contracts have positive value. Given the recent glut of regional cable deals there is definitely a bull market happening now, so these opt-out clauses make sense. The players want that extra option, and their agents want control over every single drip, drab, and crumb of their player's value (as they should).
4:39 PM Dec 15th
 
steve161
What I find most interesting about this signing is not the raw numbers--8/184, with pretty much every commentator noting that the Cardinals and Nationals offered 'more', whatever that means--but the fact that he has TWO opportunities to opt out.

Used to be that players would insist on no-trade clauses. Now they want mulligans.
3:47 PM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
Nope. Though Car-Go is a good guess: good defensive outfielder who can hit. Probably doesn't walk enough.

It's funny....I could have found a list of comparables for Heyward just drawing on outfielders who are free agents (Justin Upton, maybe Gordon and Fowler) or available on the trade block (Car-Go). I wonder if that's a part of the reason Heyward landed for 8/$186: because there were a lot of 'Plan B' candidates available to teams.
3:04 PM Dec 15th
 
taosjohn
Carlos Gonzalez?
2:23 PM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
It's not Justin Upton, though Upton would be a good comparable. He probably fell off the tables because he strikes out a bit more than Heyward, and has a bit more power. Not enough defensive skills, either.
2:12 PM Dec 15th
 
davekent
Is the contemporary Justin Upton?
2:00 PM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
P.S. I made a sort of a mistake in something about Callison -- and, BTW, not that this is any excuse for it :-) .....but it probably relates to something else that wasn't well enough appreciated at the time, wasn't realized like we do now, and teams certainly suffered for it.

I said that while Callison came up to the majors at a slightly earlier age than Heyward, he didn't become a regular until a slightly later age. That's not really true, depending on how you see it.

His stat page looks like he wasn't a regular till 1960, just after turning 21; if you glance at it, you'll see what I mean. Actually, looking further, I see that he had been given the regular job a year earlier, but hit poorly and very soon was just an irregular, then got sent down at the end of June. I didn't remember that; all I knew was that he had a bad year and then was traded (from the White Sox to the Phillies).

Looking back, I'd guess a big part of why he was traded was that the White Sox didn't realize what they had. Obviously they had realized (before) that he was a great prospect, or else they wouldn't have brought him up so young, and certainly wouldn't have tried letting him be a regular. BUT, I'm guessing, when he didn't hit major league pitching, they figured he wasn't all that -- because he's not hitting major league pitching.

Callison at the time was barely 20. I'm not thinking they failed to realize that a player almost always gets a lot better from there, but I am thinking they didn't realize as much as we now do (with the benefit of the work of Bill and many others) the extent to which hitting .170 or whatever at the age of 20, especially in a limited trial, doesn't say a thing about the guy not becoming the star you thought he was going to be. I'd guess that this played a huge role in their being so willing to trade him. (The reason I say 'so' willing is, it's not like they got Frank Robinson for him; they got Gene Freese, who was a good third baseman but not a guy you trade a young budding star for.)
12:25 PM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
Not Stanton, Gomez, or Pence.

Strawberry is a good comparable, though his defense doesn't quite compare. And he had a big edge in slugging percentage (.525 to Heyward's .431)....that might've been where we lost him. A great player, Straw.

Dave Winfield is an absolutely terrific comparable....I don't know why he didn't end up on the list, actually. His triple-slash through Age-25 was .273/.342/.433, which looks a lot like Heyward's .268/.353/.431. Both were tall, athletic guys. Winfield didn't start winning Gold Gloves until he was twenty-seven, and doesn't rate as nearly the defender that Heyward is, but he's a terrific comparable, and I wish we hadn't missed him.

Winfield, over the eight years that the Cubs have Heyward, saw his triple-slash jump to .296/.361/.505....good enough for a 143 OPS+. Made the All-Star team every year, and finished in the top-dozen in the NL MVP vote seven of the eight seasons. So...another positive sign for the Cubs.


12:00 PM Dec 15th
 
evanecurb
Bobby Bonds
11:47 AM Dec 15th
 
chill
On Strawberry - never mind, found it - negative defensive metrics probably knocked him out.
10:06 AM Dec 15th
 
chill
When Heyward came up, I always mentally linked him to Darryl Strawberry - tall, fast right fielder with a strong arm who came up young, had broad offensive skills though he didn't hit for high average. NL East. I wonder at what part of your process Strawberry was eliminated.
10:01 AM Dec 15th
 
Edward
Or Hunter Pence, now that I think of it.
9:23 AM Dec 15th
 
Edward
Got to be Giancarlo or Carlos Gomez.
9:23 AM Dec 15th
 
gejerz
Dave, A terrific piece, a great read. Thank you.

As to Johnny Callison, only recall his stint with the Cubs, which was not remarkable at age 31.

In Wrigley Field, the bricks can shorten careers. Center field is a smaller area than most, it seems to me RF is the more difficult field to play in WF. But cannot recall anyone writing/analyzing that, just an opine from years of watching. CF seems to be more about the Y axis (in and out) of movement, not the X axis (gap to gap.)

Will Almora become the CF and Heyward move to RF by the end of the '16 season?
7:54 AM Dec 15th
 
ksclacktc
Dave Winfield
7:21 AM Dec 15th
 
SteveN
Maris, thanks for the info on Callison. I grew up a Phillies fan and followed him lots. Very strong arm.

His decline was hastened by an eye problem in 67 or 68. Can't remember what the problem was. Glasses didn't seem to help. Never he same player after that.
6:10 AM Dec 15th
 
DaveFleming
It's not Victorino: the Flyin' Hawaiian didn't get nearly enough plate appearances thru his Age-25 season to show up as a comparable to Heyward.

I didn't consider this, but maybe I should have: the size of the players involved. Victorino was a little guy....and a fast player. I think this is a benefit to baseball players, being a bit short: they seem to accelerate faster than the lanky guys.

Heyward is really tall....they list him at 6'4 or 6'5. He runs exceptionally well for a tall guy, but he's not really like Victorino. I remember Shane pretty clearly, and though he has the same diverse range of skills that Heyward has, no one would ever say they seem 'alike' as players.

Sort of going off a tangent...have you ever noticed that there are two 'good' kinds of defensive outfielders. There are the short guys who accelerate quick the ball (Puckett, Shane, young Gwynn), and the lanky tall guys who cover ground with big strides (Heyward, Edmonds, Dwight Evans). The former group has guys who retire with 300 or 400 stolen bases. The later group has guys with 50 or 70 career steals (and poor percentages).

I've often wondered what is a better quality for an outfielder to have: getting up to speed quickly, or having the legs to cover ground. I think the lanky guys tend to last a bit longer.

3:15 AM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
BTW, a little about Johnny Callison, whom you said you knew the least, among those top comps:

I think he's a very good comp indeed. As I remember, the feeling about Callison when he came up was very, very similar. They came up at just about the same age -- Callison just a little earlier, but Heyward became a regular just a little younger. They were both thought of as all-around players, and both were thought to be prime candidates for superstar. They're both right fielders. Callison was considered a very good right fielder, but not nearly as good as Heyward; Callison was a somewhat better hitter, and, despite being much smaller, had more power. So, there was a lot in common between them, but with differences. As to how it balances out, I think Callison's early career was just a bit stronger than Heyward's, and if he were playing today and became available at this age.....If Heyward gets !84/8, I'd guess a Johnny Callison would get, well, more. :-)
Maybe like 220/8.

Callison's rest-of-career wasn't so great; as you say, he "didn't improve," although he did have several more seasons that we could call "solid." I tend not to think this has any relevance to Heyward, including because, I have a little 'theory' about what was at least partly behind his not doing better. Just a guess, but I think it's a phenomenon that probably did exist for at least some players. It's hard for me to imagine that it wouldn't have.

That was a time when it was, for whatever reasons (and we've seen a fair amount of discussion of it here), ....when it was becoming harder and harder to hit, and would continue to be so for the next few years. The offensive environment simply was becoming less favorable. But, this wasn't really appreciated at the time -- not per se. I think the hitters must have just thought they were doing worse. And, I think that had to be somewhat demoralizing, perhaps for some players more than others. Their numbers were declining, or weren't progressing as they might have, and, even if a hitter was in fact doing 'well' in relation to the environment, he couldn't have appreciated that he was. It may be hard to keep doing as well as you can in such a climate, and I can imagine that it might have thrown some players way off their game. I realize this might have nothing to do with Callison's career course. Maybe it was that he had some big injury, or a series of little hurts. Maybe he had weaknesses that pitchers found and exploited. Maybe he got bummed out from what happened to his Phillies in 1964. Maybe a thousand things. But I'd put some money on that other thing being in there.
12:34 AM Dec 15th
 
OldBackstop
Maris....well in 2008, Victorino stole 15 more bases than Heyward did in 2015. And in his 25 year Victorino slashed a very similar .287/.346/.414/.760.

But looking at the comps, Victorino comes up light on WAR and power, although he had more SBs.

At any rate, it isn't Victorino, because I just noticed that Dave included Sizemore, who is 33, so it must be someone in their mid-20s. Victorino is 34.
12:24 AM Dec 15th
 
MarisFan61
Well, there's one easy difference between Heyward and Victorino on there, and in Heyward's favor:
It's a lot better if you do that at age 25 than at age 27.

And, there are a couple more things, also both in Heyward's favor:

-- While their oWAR's for the year were identical, Heyward's overall WAR was far ahead.
-- While their slash lines and bare numbers were similar, Victorino had the benefit of a more favorable home Park Factor -- not much more, but more.
11:44 PM Dec 14th
 
OldBackstop
Hey Dave, enjoyed the piece!

I'm not clear if by contemporary you meant a 26 year old or just an active player.

Heyward's slashes: .275/.340/.425/.765

Shane Victorino 12, 34: .268/.353/.431/.784

Interestingly close:

Victorino's 2008 Age 27
.293 .352 .447 .799 14 HRs 167 hits, Gold Glove, oWAR 3.8
Heyward's 2015 Age 25
.293 .359 .439 .797 13 HRs 160 hits, Gold Glove, oWAR 3.8


11:04 PM Dec 14th
 
MarisFan61
Dave: I think you did a brilliant job. I love how you went about it.
I also agree with your conclusion :-) .....but I'd love what you did even if I didn't.

BTW, just a tiny comment (of no import): I think one has to beware using any players from the heavy-PED era as any kind of comp. I think that rules out Andruw Jones (for an additional reason than why you ruled him out) and Grady Sizemore.
11:01 PM Dec 14th
 
Davidg32
Another positive factor for the Cubs, Dave, is that Heyward will be leaving a pitcher's park and moving to Wrigley. I expect him to have some good years there.
9:44 PM Dec 14th
 
 
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