Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is right fielder Jason Heyward.
Heyward played his traditional excellent defense in right field, tallying 7 Outs Above Average (No. 2 in MLB) and 6 Defensive Runs Saved (No. 6 in MLB, minimum 600 innings). He played center full-time after the Cubs acquired Nick Castellanos, occasionally moving to right late in games to maximize the club’s defense.
A month-long stint leading off put a damper on what was shaping up to be Heyward’s finest offensive season in a Cubs uniform. The 30-year-old led off 25 times from Aug. 1-Sept. 2, hitting .147/.277/.295 with a 55 wRC+. His numbers before and after that stretch:
March 28-July 31: 100 games/93 starts, .280/.356/.460, 110 wRC+, 10.5 BB%, 19.3 K%
Sept. 3-Sept. 29: 20 games/19 starts, .250/.372/.453, 117 wRC+ 15.4 BB%, 15.4 K%
The Cubs went 16-12 last August — their most wins in a single month in 2019. Heyward’s a team-first guy and accepted the challenge of leading off, but the numbers show he’s better when hitting elsewhere in the order.
Expectations for this season’s role
David Ross said last month he’s going to keep Heyward in right field as much as possible this season. The five-time Gold Glove Award winner split his time almost equally between center (603 1/3 innings) and right (618 2/3) last season.
Ross plans to alternate righties and lefties in the lineup. With Kris Bryant tabbed as the Cubs’ newest leadoff man, Heyward will hit sixth:
The Cubs aren’t planning a right field platoon, but Heyward will likely sit versus some lefty starting pitchers in favor of Steven Souza Jr. He can always enter games late for defensive purposes but sitting him in unfavorable matchups will put him in the best possible position to succeed.
Vs. RHP: .273/.358/.440, 118 wRC+, 11.0 BB%, 15.4 K%
Vs. LHP: .233/.304/.343, 79 wRC+, 8.4 BB%, 22.1 K%
Heyward hit .251/.343/.429 with 21 homers, 62 RBIs and a 101 wRC+ in 2019 — all personal bests (average aside) during his four seasons on the North Side. There’s no telling if those figures would have been higher, had he not led off for a month.
Nevertheless, Heyward has improved significantly after struggling offensively early in his Cubs career. Replicating his March-July numbers throughout 2020 will lengthen a Cubs lineup with a formidable 1-5.
The complete roster outlook series:
1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago